Three years ago Mario Romero Zavala and José Antonio Bolio decided to create a Twitter account in Mexico City to alert people to cumbersome police checkpoints that too often resulted in various forms of harassment to locals. This was the beginning of Ret.io, which has since changed tremendously.
Ret.io’s Twitter presence has grown across multiple accounts in every Mexican state to 27,000 followers. Its website has more than 100,000 monthly visitors, and its iPhone app has been in the top 10 in the App Store within the navigation category.
For the first year Ret.io was just one Twitter account that tracked and tweeted mentions and tips. The iPhone app was released in February of this year, albeit Romero Zavala admits that the core functionality still lies with Twitter.
Although the app originally was created so people could report the checkpoints, users eventually began using the service in different ways. Zavala points out that the site isn’t set up to fight narcos in Mexico per se, but there are tangental intersections.
“Some reports help citizens avoid dangerous situations, like shootings or roadblocks, some of which may be linked to the war on drugs; but these aren’t things we think the cartels would really worry about as they are pretty public incidents,” he tells TechCrunch.
Ret.io is used much more to receive reports of police abuse and corruption, to the point that some police have spoken negatively about the service, he said. However, in places like Cancún and Mexico City, local authorities have used Ret.io to respond to citizen reports on the service, he added.
Another interesting thing about Ret.io is that it’s run primarily on open source projects, Zavala says. “From our data stores (postgres, redis) to our front-end frameworks (jquery, bootstrap), our whole system really is based on open source and services like Google Maps and of course, Twitter,” he says.
Zavala and Bolio are interested in funding in the long run, but are currently working to streamline some things to turn Ret.io into a better service. Investment is tough to come by in Mexico, Zavala added, but he’s hoping that expanding the service outside Mexico will help Ret.io find investors more easily.
“I think widespread adoption of Internet technologies in México, as in other places, is making it very hard to paint a dishonest picture of the local situation, which can only be a positive thing,” Zavala says. “It is also resulting in a society which is already collaborating to stay out of trouble.”