Future FrontlineSMS

Today has turned out to be rather significant for FrontlineSMS. Two months and two days since we released the new version we’ve hit our 500th download request. Although I didn’t set any targets back on launch day, by all accounts we’ve done incredibly well and FrontlineSMS is now likely the most widely adopted non-profit text messaging platform around.

Of course, many of those 500 users will probably never do anything significant with it, but at least they’re thinking about how they can apply mobiles in their work, and at least there’s a tool they can turn to as they begin to explore their mobile world. And for those who are beginning to use it, we’re slowly building a powerful picture of how it’s being adopted in the field. Here’s some feedback from just a few of our new users.

Mercy Corps, Indonesia – agriculture: We have been using FrontlineSMS for about a month sending weekly information on commodities such as plant, fish, fertiliser and pesticide prices, and weather forecasts (pictured). In the longer term we plan to send SMS-advertisements as well. Right now we have around 350 subscribers consisting of internal staff, farmers, buyers, government staff and other organisations

FrontlineSMS is also central to a UNDP pilot project where it is being used to provide coffee prices and other related agricultural information to 150 smallholder farmers. This project was previously covered here.

Open University project, UK – election monitoring: We are working in Mozambique where we are setting up coverage for local elections in 43 municipalities on 19th November. We publish the Mozambique Political Process Bulletin and during election periods we do a daily newsletter. We will be running FrontlineSMS with four lines – two for each of the two mobile phone companies. One line will be our fifty correspondents in the field – largely local radio and local newspaper journalists who will also string for us. We did this in the 2003 and 2004 elections and the only change is to use text messages that can go directly into the computer for basic information. The other line will be open and we are experimenting, for the first time in Mozambique, with an open request for citizen correspondents to send us text messages on the conduct of the election

FrontlineSMS first hit the headlines last April when it was used to monitor the Nigerian Presidential elections. This story was picked up by the BBC, among many others. The software has also been used to co-ordinate election monitoring in The Philippines, and is being lined up to help monitor the forthcoming elections in Ghana, Guinea and Cote D’Ivoire.

mPedigree, Ghana – health: We intend to use FrontlineSMS for the “rapid prototyping” of creative mobile health services related to drug authentication, and to help us with our surveying and administration on the prevalence of fake drugs. Based on the work we’ve been doing here in Ghana since 2007, we’re convinced there is room for FrontlineSMS in various e-government initiatives, health included

One of the early higher-profile projects making use of the latest version of FrontlineSMS is “Mobiles in Malawi“, where it has been implemented as the central communications hub for 600 community health workers in a rural hospital. Plans are already underway to replicate this work in places such as Kenya and India. The work in Malawi was covered here back in June.

National Democratic Institute, USA – election monitoring: Thanks for all your (collective) work in bringing such a quality product to market. As you may know, NDI has done a lot of work using SMS to collect and broadcast data via SMS in a number of elections around the world over the past two years. The latest version of FrontlineSMS is quite impressive, and much more accessible for non-technical users starting off in the SMS world. Although it can’t replace the custom coding we do through other methods, it’s a GREAT tool for international development partners who don’t have a lot of technical expertise but who want to stick their toe into the world of SMS. FrontlineSMS is now on our radar and something that we will always keep in mind when giving recommendations to partners

Anonymous media organisation, Iraq – news dissemination: We had been in contact with a number of local mobile operators hoping to negotiate the launching of a news alert service. While progress with local operators was relatively slow we started to look for a technical alternative and that was when we found out about FrontlineSMS. The team came to realise, during FrontlineSMS testing and evaluation, that the program was a fantastic way to deliver our content. A user-friendly program, three of our staff were trained to use it within the context of few hours. The effectiveness of FrontlineSMS is evident as we can create, manage and update the profiles of the clients’ groups we created. We now send messages to at least eight countries using different operators in Europe and the Middle East, with the messages delivered to all the numbers at the same time. We are keen to continue using FrontlineSMS as we predict that the demand for our services, via the software, will grow in the future

A significant number of rural radio stations have requested the latest version of FrontlineSMS as a method of sourcing audience-feedback, and we’ll bring further information as we get it. Use of the software continues in Zimbabwe, however, where it is being used to keep members of the public updated on news and current affairs, and to provide them with a channel to air their views.

Watch this space for further stories and case studies, particularly as our outreach efforts expand and we prepare for nine conferences in three months, not to mention an exciting engagement with the Clinton Global Initiative in late September.

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