The View from 100,000

Here at FrontlineSMS, we’ve been making software for a long time. When we first released Version 2 of our software, a little over a year ago, we were one of a few SMS management platforms available- one of even fewer that was free and open source. At the time, we were proud to have around 25,000 downloads and an active user community. You can imagine our surprise when we checked our download numbers last week and learned that FrontlineSMS has been downloaded more than 100,000 times- more than 75,000 times in a little over a year. We were so excited, we got a cake. You have to understand, when things get serious at FrontlineSMS, we get serious about getting a cake.

There’s no question, though, that the space is very different from when we first started. There are lot more mobile phones out there and a lot more organizations taking a serious look at how to use them. SMS, according to the GSMA, remains among the most popular, but there are strong arguments and value coming out of Interactive Voice Response (IVR), USSD, and, of course, the mobile web. And there are a lot of new applications- a lot of new SMS management platforms offering interesting functions and approaches, filling market niches, and, most importantly, meeting the enormous amount of demand coming out of markets that didn’t exist 5, or even 2, years ago.

We see all of this as a good thing. What we at FrontlineSMS care most about is connecting our world. Although there are 3.2 billion active, unique mobile users, that means that there are another 4 billion to reach. The challenge that we must overcome is not each other, it’s finding the right mix of information, services, and technology to help people live better lives. We aren’t fighting for market share, we’re striving to keep up with markets that are growing faster than anyone fully understands.

So, at 100,000 downloads, there are a few things we’ve learned and want to share:

To Say Thank You. As we say every chance we get, we have had the pleasure of learning from thousands of organizations and individuals over our 7 years. Working with users, challenging our assumptions, and using lessons learned to inform others is the most important and valuable part of our work. The ways the platform has improved are due to the thoughtful input, patience, and field-testing done by others. So, more than ever, Thank You.

The Future is Multi-Channel. We have spent years talking about the value of SMS, and we continue to believe wholeheartedly in the power and importance of the platform. That said, it is just one tool- with its own strengths and weaknesses. It works best when intelligently paired with other platforms, meeting users wherever they are- whether that’s on their phone, in front of a computer, or listening to the radio. We don’t believe that everything will ever get done on one platform- nor should it. It’s time for all of us to focus less on comparisons and more on linkages.

Design for Behaviors, then Users. It is important to reach users where they are and, certainly, user-centered design is an enormous field that has greatly improved the quality of technology and services available. As we’ve said, though, when you pick “a” user, you leave out all the other potential users who want the same thing. We believe that the first step is knowing what you want to change, and then building as many complementary approaches to making that happen as possible. We will not all end up on one platform- or doing things the same way- so the systems we design have to meet as many users as possible, as many ways as possible, so that we all have as many opportunities as possible.

Mobile is Still Just Beginning. Despite the huge numbers, impressive services, and well-deserved investment, most mobile services are still in their infancy. The increasing virtualization of numbers, expansion of available channels, flexibility in price packages, and platform fragmentation across markets continue to create enormous opportunities for commercial and social impact organizations alike.

We’re excited about what lies ahead and ecstatic to be working on a platform that’s been useful to so many people. That said, we know there’s more to do, and in the very near future, you’ll be able to see the steps we’re taking to bridge the gap. In the meantime, though, we’re going to get a piece of that cake.