Every year around the end of Ramadan, millions of Indonesians make the trip back to their home towns to celebrate Eid al Fitr with their families and relatives. For many who don’t or can’t, they often enjoy listening to stories and photos shared by their friends. Over the last five Eid al Fitr celebrations, @pulkam has served as a central source for Eid travelers to share their stories and experiences and to deliver various information to assist travelers during the festivities. It also has grown and embraced technology like no other travel information centers in Indonesia.
In July 2009, Indonesia was reeling from a devastating terrorist attack that hit the capital city. The news of the bombing of JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels had spread on Twitter within seconds and details were coming far quicker than the TV or radio can keep up. Twitter had shown how powerful and immediate it can serve as a platform for citizen reporting and Indonesians quickly latched on to the service.
Coincidentally, the tragedy also happened weeks ahead of Ramadan and given the tradition of the annual exodus for Eid, the @pulkam Twitter account was established to get people to tell stories of their trips and their home towns. The name was taken from the Indonesian term “pulang kampung” or homeward bound.
The establishment of this account at that time was significant. It encouraged people to re-embrace their origins, their home towns, their families, and their friends, thereby turning the spotlight away from the country as a victim of terrorism towards a country united by togetherness, a country that will not let tragedy stop its people from moving forward.
It was also one of a number of accounts established at that time that wanted to help Indonesians remind themselves of who they are and to resurface and heightened that sense of nationalism that had been eroded over time and potentially wiped clean by the attacks.
Since 2009, @pulkam has been promoting home towns, sharing stories, helping travelers anticipate delays, and generally be a friend to the tens of thousands of its followers every year. @pulkam’s followers come and go, but they almost always return every year.
A unique trait of @pulkam is that while it’s run by a team of Indonesians for Indonesians, its “master control”, as they call it, is based in Kuwait, run by Wahyu Ichwandardi, better known as @pinot, an Indonesian motion graphics designer who has been working for a Kuwaiti television station for a number of years.
Why base the technical operations in Kuwait? To begin with, Pinot has the experience, the time, the equipment, and the knowledge to handle the sort of activities that @pulkam requires, not to mention being several timezones behind, which gives him a unique advantage of being able to stay up when the team members in Indonesia are off to bed.
As someone who is based not just overseas but with a family of five, trips home become difficult and expensive, so being in control of the entire operation is something that Pinot embraces wholeheartedly as it allows him more than just a glimpse of home but lets him be a part of the festivities, right in the thick of things.
Running @pulkam goes more beyond sending tweets. The core team of ten or so volunteers that run the account every year work with a number of partners and sponsors to help encourage people share their stories and provide various information helpful for fellow travelers. This year’s volunteers came from not only Indonesia and Kuwait but also from Canada and Thailand. Team coordination is done over Twitter and email.
Volunteering for @pulkam also involves nationwide monitoring of traffic reports on major routes, traffic cameras, working with the national police force, getting information from followers, from radio and television stations, and from the general public. Since @pulkam also runs competitions, it also means selecting and reviewing hundreds of submissions in the forms of photos, tweets, and essays to pick the winning entries, all in the space of three weeks.
@pulkam takes advantage of the various online services that are available at its disposal. While the primary presence is on Twitter, activities are distributed across a number of services including Waze, Tumblr, Pinterest, and most recently, Vine.
Glenn Marsalim, one of the @pulkam initiators who effectively manages the general operation of the account’s activities insists that @pulkam isn’t about traffic information.
Marsalim said, “if it’s only passing on traffic information, people can easily use many other sources, but having those information curated and focused on particular areas of concern, retrieving information by request, answering questions, and sharing the spirit of the Eid festivities differentiates the account from many others in the field”. Being a friend to the travelers means not only passing on information but also being human.
“Idealistically @pulkam intends to contribute to growing the tourism potential of Indonesia through the nostalgia of the travelers, and particularly through its food”, said Alderina Gracia who is based in Bangkok.
While @pulkam initially delivered information that the team discovered by itself and fielded many requests for traffic information, the trend has changed in recent years.
Pinot said that in years past, clocking in to check the Twitter stream meant getting ready to answer questions and flying through all the information sources that he could get his hands on, “but this year is very different. People don’t ask for traffic info so much. They instead volunteer their own information. We’re curating far more traffic information from followers than ever”, he said. “The change reflects the increased awareness of technology among Indonesians and how they can use it to their advantage”.
“The adoption of Vine among followers has also been beyond expectation”, Pinot admitted. “As a videographer and video geek, I’m very surprised. We couldn’t ask them to upload videos to YouTube before because mobile data connection in Indonesia simply wouldn’t support it but with Vine being so compressed and so small in terms of data usage, it makes things so much easier for them to share”.
The timing of Vine’s arrival couldn’t be better for @pulkam as Indonesians adopt smartphones in record numbers. Android is now the prevailing smartphone platform in the country and with Vine’s availability for Android as well as iOS, the shared Eid experiences become far more personal, more involved, and more real.
At the end of the day however, @pulkam is not about the technology, it’s not about how cool it is to embrace online services before the “official” services run by the larger establishments care about social networks. For all the technologies that @pulkam has adopted to enhance its services, at its heart, @pulkam is about the stories, the experiences, the joys, and the spirit of Indonesians and their home towns.