Happy Birthday, Witness! Hello Parachute.
Today marks the one-year anniversary of Witness’s TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2015 hackathon win
Today, Witness turns one. And wow, what an amazing journey this past year has been. Witness started as a hack, born out of my frustration with how little our phones do for us in an emergency, at a time when livestreaming seemed to be everywhere except where it was needed the most. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that Witness would end up becoming a vital tool and an integral part of life for people all around the world.
I am so grateful for everyone who has embraced Witness and so honored that a few thousand lines of code have gone such a long way. Not a day goes by without hearing a moving story about how Witness made a meaningful impact in someone’s life. From offering peace of mind to parents, spouses, friends and colleagues, to alerting and capturing evidence in cases of abuse and violence, to even documenting corruption and terror. People from all kinds of backgrounds have molded this tool to fit needs in their lives, sometimes in very unexpected ways, opening up new possibilities and uses.
Witness has grown up a lot this past year. Today, I have three big announcements to make.
Witness becomes Parachute
I picked the name Witness around 3AM at the hackathon. At the time, it was a perfect fit. But soon after launching on the App Store in July it became clear that the name Witness did not cover the full range of how it was being used. As Witness started to grow, the name became too limiting compared to my vision for its future. And the name became confusing when running on devices without a camera.
I searched for months for a better name and fell in love with Parachute. Parachute perfectly describes what it feels like to activate the app, or even what it feels like to just have it on your phone. It works well with all its current use cases and has room for expansion towards all directions it is headed to in the future.
What’s new in Parachute
Parachute is the largest update to Witness since its launch in the App Store in July. Here’s what’s new:
Discreet Recording. Parachute blacks out the screen during an emergency to protect the safety of the person using the app, by making it less likely for the phone to be noticed and then taken or destroyed. The recording can still be checked by holding down the eye
Quicker Activation. Parachute comes with a notification center widget that can be activated from anywhere in iOS by swiping down to reveal the notification center and then holding the widget for 1 second. It can also be activated by force-touching the app icon and then touching “Activate”
Organizations. An organization can generate and share “Add us on Parachute” links that let users add the organization to their emergency contacts. When a user adds an organization to their emergency contacts and then activates Parachute, the incident is shared with that organization
Flash. The flash can be turned on by holding down the eye and touching the flash button
Altitude. Parachute keeps track of altitude, which helps identify which floor the user is on
Smarter Streaming. Parachute has a redesigned streaming algorithm that works much better when the network conditions are bad
Incident Deletion. Incidents can now be deleted after 24 hours using a link sent to the user’s email
Third Party Apps. Third party apps can now activate Parachute on behalf of the user
The Parachute platform
Soon after launching Witness, I started hearing from a diverse set of organizations who saw Witness as having the potential to be extremely impactful in their field and would like to be able to integrate with it. Organizations were interested in tracking live incidents and receiving evidence that they could then archive and analyze. The Parachute platform is the answer to that.
The Parachute platform opens up Parachute access to organizations. It lets organizations receive, route, archive and analyze Parachute incidents through a web-based control center as well as programmatically through APIs. Organizations focus on what they do best — responding to the incident — while the Parachute platform takes care of the complex mechanics of delivering the incident to them, with live video, audio, location, and other sensor data.
When the Witness app launched in July, it showed us how obsolete the current ways of asking for help in an emergency are. The Parachute platform aims to do the same for the receiving end of the emergency. Even at such an early stage, organizations have seen tremendous value in their early testing, leveraging tools that either have never existed before or would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Here’s the highlights:
Hotlines. Organizations can create virtual hotlines. Each hotline gets an “Add us on Parachute” link that, when opened from a phone with Parachute installed, lets the user add the hotline to their emergency contacts. From then on, whenever the user activates Parachute, the organization receives the incident through the Parachute platform
Routing. Organizations get to define actions to be taken when an incident comes into a hotline. Apart from sending an email, making a phone call or sending a text, organizations can also route incidents to alarm/paging/dispatch systems, TVs, digital notaries, social media, and more. For example, an organization can set up a rule to call the person on shift at the office nearest to the incident and sound an alarm.
Tools. The Parachute platform comes with a bunch of tools that, while still at their infancy, are extremely powerful:
- A live view of all active incidents, with video, audio and location
- A searchable archive of all incidents and evidence they’ve received
- Incident-level analytics, which provide information like the speed and distance traveled
- Macro-level analytics, which provide insights across all incidents received, like identifying hotspots of activity
- Composites, which reconstruct an event by piecing together multiple incidents in perfect sync
APIs & Webhooks. Organizations get full API access so they can build custom tools on top of the Parachute platform and integrate it with their existing processes. This allows them to infinitely extend the Parachute platform to fit their own needs.
We’ve only scratched the surface of what technology can do to make the world a safer place. As we head on to our second year, we will keep pushing the boundaries of technology towards our mission to provide the simplest, fastest and most reliable experience in the event of an emergency.
A huge thank you goes out to all of you from around the world who have helped shape Parachute, to the 50+ organizations that have been the inspiration behind the Parachute platform since July, and to Parachute’s amazing team of advisors and friends for their invaluable help in the past year. These are still early days and Parachute will only get better with time. As always, I’m looking forward to hearing from you at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Hacker News.
Parachute (previously Witness) broadcasts your location, audio and video to your friends and loved ones in the event of an emergency