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An app. For my children.

It’s no secret to readers of this blog that for a while now I’ve been attempting to get back into coding. This, combined with a growing interest in building sustainability into many of my projects, has fuelled my interest in the potential of mobile apps to build out some of my ideas.

Today sees the launch of my first experimental app. While I didn’t write the code it’s been a useful exercise in understanding the process of app design, app development, testing and publishing. Hopefully the coding piece will fall into place in the new year.

There’s nothing better than scratching your own itch, so my first app does just that. Say hello to for my children.


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for my children is a simple app I wish my mother had before she died. It would have let her share those places that were special in her life. Her first school. First home. Favourite cafe. First job. The place she met my father. The old playground she played in as a child – which is now a block of flats. Places I would love to visit and stand today if I only knew where they were.

for my children effectively lets you create your own memory book of special places so your friends, your family, your children – and their children – can one day walk in your footsteps and revisit them. I know it’s something I want to use, and hope you feel the same.

I can also imagine this being useful for early-stage dementia or Alzheimer’s sufferers, helping them capture memories for family while they still can.

It’s only available in the Apple App Store at the moment but we’re planning on building out an Android version soon assuming we generate the income. The online sharing functionality will also come later, budgets permitting. If you like the app and think others might too, please share on your social media and your blog. And if you download it, consider rating it in the App Store. Good ratings will be vital if we’re to develop the idea further. Thank you.

Links
Official website
In the App Store
Information sheet (PDF)
Screenshots (JPG)
App splash screen (JPG)

R/T ≠ Endorsement

For pretty-much eight years now I’ve been tweeting about international development, technology, social change, innovation, technology, my work, and how we can all help make the world a better place. Some of it is pretty serious stuff. And sometimes it gets the odd retweet, too.

So it’s funny that my most popular tweet so far – posted exactly a year ago today – covered none of those.


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Welcome to the world of social media. Retweet ≠ endorsement (unless it’s a joke).

Back to the Future: Seventeen things you might not know about FrontlineSMS

This post was first published on the FrontlineSMS website last October to celebrate six years since the software’s launch. This week the FrontlineSMS team – which now spans three continents – are preparing for the release of the latest version. Launch events are being held in the US, UK and Kenya. Further details are available here.

With this, and our transition announcement a couple of weeks ago, it felt like a good time to reflect on the early days of the software. Thanks to the great support of our online community, users, staff, donors, bloggers and the media, FrontlineSMS today is well known throughout the wider ICT4D world. But it wasn’t always that way. Here’s that post in full.

In late October 2005, an early beta – “proof-of-concept” – version of FrontlineSMS was released to the world. It took just ten months for the idea to shape itself into the early stages of what you see today. In this, the second and last of our sixth birthday celebration posts (you can read the first here), we dig deep into our email archives and reveal some of the more interesting early – and perhaps surprising – moments of the project.

The idea for FrontlineSMS was conceived in early 2005 with the help of several field trips to South Africa and Mozambique, a bottle of beer and “Match of the Day”. All is revealed in this fun, short National Geographic video made in 2010:

The very first email which specifically references FrontlineSMS was sent on 6th March, 2005 at 0853 to register the domain name.

Prior to that the working title was “Project SMS”. The first email to reference “Project SMS” was sent on Wednesday 26th January, 2005 at 12:02. In it, the entire concept was described in just 963 words with an initial estimated budget of just £2,000 ($3,000).

Factoring in equipment and other costs, personal gifts totaling £10,000 were secured on 16th March, 2005 from two former Vodafone directors.

“The potential for FrontlineSMS is very exciting, and I am very much looking forward to working on the project. The potential impact for conservation and development is considerable.” – Email from me to one of the supporters, 3rd May, 2005.

Preparation for the project officially got underway with the purchase of equipment totaling £1,476.09 on 22nd May, 2005:

One month later the timeline for the project was laid out. FrontlineSMS was delivered bang on schedule. From an email on 22nd June, 2005:

“I will begin working on the specification over the next couple of weeks, and will then get stuck into the initial programming phase during August. I have allocated that whole month to FrontlineSMS. As per the original timeline, July will be preparation, and August to September development time, so by October we should have something to trial.”

August 2005: The Beta version of FrontlineSMS was developed on this kitchen table in Finland. In the absence of any other images, the forest view from the window was used as the main banner for the first FrontlineSMS website later that month.

News of FrontlineSMS was first revealed to the media in an interview with the Charity Times [PDF] in August, 2005. Software development was briefly paused on 26th August so that the first FrontlineSMS website could be hastily put together ahead of the article’s release.

“I have very high hopes that FrontlineSMS is really going to open the door to SMS technology to the wider NGO community” – Email to World Wildlife Fund, who were interested in trailing the software. 2nd September, 2005.

On 29th September, 2005 FrontlineSMS was presented for the first time at an internal event at Fauna & Flora International in Cambridge, UK:

On 5th October, 2005, to celebrate its imminent launch, FrontlineSMS buys up 200 pixels on the Million Dollar Homepage, a site which has since gone down in Internet folklore. (Read more on this here).

Email, 6th October, 2005: “Google now gives us around 80 results when searching for FrontlineSMS”. Today the number is well over 100,000.

Email to supporters, 31st October, 2005: “The FrontlineSMS texting system is now ready for trial”. These nine words signaled our official launch exactly six years ago today.

Email dated 14th November, 2005 from the MacArthur Foundation: “The MacArthur Foundation’s Technology Grants Committee is always looking for innovative applications of technology for the NGO sector. I’d love to have a chat with you about your application if you have the time”. Two years later MacArthur would become the first donor to make an investment in FrontlineSMS with a $200,000 grant. This funded a major rewrite and a new website in 2008.

14th November, 2005: 160 Characters are the first mobile-focused news site to announce the release of FrontlineSMS.

15th November, 2005: We receive an email enquiry from Kubatana, a Zimbabwean civil society organisation. Days later FrontlineSMS had its first official implementation. Kubatana still use FrontlineSMS today.

Today, with fifteen staff over three continents, users in over 80 countries across 20 different non-profit sectors, and over 25,000 downloads, the rest – as they say – is history…  \o/