For all the fancy messaging systems that are available across smart phones and feature phones, there is one thing that can communicate across them all, aside from the voice call, and that is the humble SMS.
Frontline SMS recognised the ubiquity and resilience of this type of communication back in 2004, when founder Ken Banks was working in Kruger National Park in South Africa. He saw the need for park authorities to get local communities involved in reporting poaching. No-one in these communities had access to the Internet, but all of them had mobile phones.
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Since then, the open-source SMS-messaging software has been downloaded over 25,000 times, and helps organizations in over 80 countries to overcome their communication challenges.
In 2010, FrontlineSMS recognized the importance of adapting the software to provide additional functionality tailored to specific industries and sectors. Within a year, FrontlineSMS expanded its project set, supporting a group of young mobile development experts and organizations in the creation of FrontlineSMS:Medic, FrontlineSMS:Credit, FrontlineSMS:Learn, FrontlineSMS:Legal and FrontlineSMS:Radio.
Each project began developing user relationships, partnerships, and software aimed at improving mobile integration in their industry, while acting as advocates for FrontlineSMS.
Today the company is launching a new version of its software through events taking place in Nairobi, Kenya, followed by an event the same day in Washington, DC. On June 18, the European launch will be held in London, hosted by the Guardian.
With 6 billion active mobile phone connections across the world and an increasing number in emerging markets, there’s a pretty good opportunity for finding ways to connect communities, especially in remote regions.
Over the last two years, FrontlineSMS focused on gathering user feedback and comments and planning a roadmap for its software. The new release is designed to make it easier to create and manage common SMS activities like announcements, conducting polls and automating replies to incoming SMS.
The service’s polling activity visualizes incoming data, allowing users to quickly understand the results. They can manage messages more easily with a flexible filing system, featuring folders and an archive capability; as well as an inbox, outbox, and the ability to monitor pending messages.
Important messages can be starred for later, and a more robust search allows users to locate messages based on name, location, or date as well as by activity, group and folder.
The architecture of the new software has been designed to be stronger and more flexible, allowing developers and users to customize FrontlineSMS to better meet their needs, and integrate it with other platforms and systems.
Browser-based and built to run on Windows, Mac and Linux, FrontlineSMS still does not need the Internet to work, sending text messages via a phone or GSM modem. Online SMS aggregators Clickatell and IntelliSMS are already built-in, for those with a web connection, and more services will follow in the months to come.
Roadmap for SMS?
FrontlineSMS plans to continue to building on its core, stand-alone software, adding new features. It hopes to integrate with additional web-based SMS services and look at critical functionality such as how it deals with forms-based data collection.
Also on the map for later this year is a web-based test platform. This will be a first step toward a more varied menu of hosting options for our users.
The company has planned many of its changes around the feedback of users. It says, “Our users inspire and help direct our work, requesting new features and helping us to prioritize as we decide what to build next. Many of our commercial clients fund custom development of the software to their specifications, which then creates functionality which can be shared with the wider community, benefitting everyone.”
From today, users can download the software, find out more about it, and access screencasts and explanations of the new functionality on the FrontlineSMS website. Information about how Version 1 will be supported going forward, and about the timetable for putting remaining Version 1 functionality onto Version 2 will also be available.
Image Credit: Kiwanja