S'porean man, 28, creates map of digitally-disadvantaged hawkers to bring them customers

Check out the digitally-disadvantaged hawkers near you.

Karen Lui | June 07, 2021, 02:53 PM

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Since Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) kicked in with its no dining in restriction, many F&B establishments, especially hawkers, have been struggling due to the reduced footfall.

Hawkers at the Old Airport Road Food Centre and Amoy Street Food Centre have seen up to 75 per cent and 50 per cent drop in business respectively.

To address this problem, both the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) and the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) announced a collaboration to help more hawkers go digital.

Apart from governmental efforts, a 28-year-old Singaporean user of the Reddit forum who goes by the waffleboy92 handle, launched a crowd-sourced Google Map layer that shows some of digitally-disadvantaged hawkers that have been hit hard to raise their visibility online.

Image by waffleboy92 on Reddit.

The map layer creator is inviting others to contribute to the map to give the digitally-disadvantaged hawkers more exposure.

Inspired to help

According to his first post published on May 23, the Redditor, whose real name is M Thirukkumaran, was inspired to help local hawkers after reading KF Seetoh's Facebook post.

The aim of his initiative is to help those who wish to support digitally disadvantaged hawkers in their vicinity but are unaware of who and where these hawkers are located.

In response to Mothership's queries, Thiru said he first launched the initiative on May 22.

He had "started with about 10 stalls" that were either highlighted for being "on the verge of closing down" in the news, or needing more support in Facebook posts.

There are currently over 200 stalls featured with the backstory of each stall, based on the second Reddit post published on June 4.

An example of the details, including backstory, that are available. Image by waffleboy92.

How it started

According to Thiru who works a full-time job, it took him "two evenings" from 10pm to 2am to prepare what was needed to launch map overlay.

He had to "properly structure everything and build the relevant components for the map and the form, as well as write the social media posts".

Thiru recognised that his creation was "far from ideal" but went ahead to launch it.

"My reasoning was if I waited too long to aggregate a big list, the map would not be ready in time to be useful," he said.

Going with "an agile approach", he chose to focus on "building automated pipelines to generate the map starting with a small list" first in hopes that "users who used the map would then contribute the stalls near them".

He told Mothership that traction was understandably slow at first due to its limited use and stall coverage.

"However, it picked up quickly, especially with the massive support by the community!" he added, sharing that it took about a week or more for traction to build gradually with more people using and contributing to the map.

Thiru credits yellowbean9 and Zoe Tein (OldieGoodieHawker) for "helping [to] drive this initiative, spreading the word, and directly contributing many stalls".

In addition, he also expressed his "heartfelt appreciation to the community for supporting this and finding it useful" and "the kind users who reached out to help".

"To me, this is a success if at least one person has used this map, found it useful, and supported a digitally disadvantaged hawker near them. I hope this map gives those hawkers the boost that they need to survive. It would be a tremendous loss to our rich hawker heritage if they closed down during this brief and difficult period."

This is not Thiru's first project to help the community when Covid-19 struck Singapore.

In February 2020, he had built the now-defunct MaskGoHere that was another crowd-sourced initiative to help users in critical need of protective items, such as due to an immunocompromised health, locate supplies near them.

Further developments

A fellow Reddit user, ubtokenceo, left a comment on his second Reddit post, offering to buy a domain to forward the map.

Thiru has confirmed that they are "discussing it now".

He added that this community-driven project's future plans "are only limited by what people want to see".

He remains open to ideas and what the public would like to see on it, such as categorising the map based on the cuisine type.

More volunteers welcome

For those who are keen to be contributors to help update the map layer with new submissions, more volunteers are always welcome, Thiru said.

He shared that the biggest challenge is collating information about the stalls that need help.

Although he regularly browses Facebook groups, such as Hawkers United, for new information to add to the map with due credit given to the author, he acknowledges the limits of his efforts as an individual.

"Verifying and adding submissions from users takes time as well," he said.

Those who are keen to share their ideas or help in any way are welcome to reach out to Thiru (u/waffleboy92 on Reddit).

Top images by Karen Lui and waffleboy92 on Reddit.