Starting today, we’re making it even easier to engage, everywhere. We’d like to introduce you to FrontlineSync, our first, free Android app, available now on the Google Play Store. FrontlineSync turns any Android phone into a gateway - meaning that users can now use local phone numbers to send, receive, and manage SMS, and - for the first time - missed calls using FrontlineCloud and FrontlineSMS.
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.
Here at FrontlineSMS, we love data. Like, a lot. If data had its own Facebook page, we’d ‘like’ it and if we took a picture with data out one night, we’d probably make it our profile picture. Data empowers, and we’re all about empowerment o/. In fact, to empower people is the why for the what we do. One thing we’re always wanting to know, of course, is how we are doing. Well we SMSed our friend data to find out – Welcome to the 2013 FrontlineSMS survey results post!
In Nicaragua, sex is embarrassing. Yet in a country where approximately 50 percent of the population is below the age of 18, and where 1 in 3 adolescent girls will become pregnant before they reach the age of 18, it’s clear that people are having sex—they’re just not talking about it due to pena—a wonderfully ambiguous word located somewhere between shame, embarrassment, and awkwardness.
We launched FrontlineSMS Version 2 in English and Swahili – now we need to ensure that users all over the world can use the software.
We need to translate the terms and messages used in Version 2 into five priority languages: French, Spanish, Mandarin, Russian and Arabic – but we’re looking for speakers of all languages to contribute translations in their native tongue. Translators will join our team of FrontlineSMS:Heroes – volunteer coders, testers, analysts and designers who contribute their time to the project for free, and as a thank you are featured on our website and get to sport these very fetching tshirts.
Assessing whether to use SMS is even more important than figuring out how to do it, as Joshua Pepall, World Vision’s United Kingdom Senior Accountability Advisor in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, reports in a special guest blog post. Improved accountability to communities and value for money are hot topics for World Vision and for the UK Department for International Development (DFID), which funds the accountability for development pilot that l support in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Accountability and quality assurance guidelines like the Humanitarian Accountability Project (HAP) and INGO (International NGO) Accountability Charters highlight the need for agencies to effectively provide accurate and timely information to communities on project plans and activities. Doing this is not always easy.
World Vision development projects work through area development programmes (ADPs). ADP Catchment areas can be made up of dozens of villages, hundreds of households and thousands of people. A real challenge for World Vision staff is how to effectively communicate programme information to community members quickly, cheaply and effectively. Organising a meeting can take days and may not the best use of people’s time, or represent good value for money. Using SMS to provide basic information on project activities and to coordinate community engagement events seemed like one solution.
Mobile phone usage in Cambodia is remarkably high - everyone seems to have a phone. Judging by the number of people that own two or three, owning multiple phones is somewhat of a status symbol as well. Phones are relatively affordable here - a Chinese 3G phone can cost as little as $60 while a basic Nokia is as little as $18. Some estimates put the number of mobile phones registered in Cambodia at 13 million (BubbleCom, 2012). Nine mobile phone operators have invested heavily in mobile phone infrastructure and there is almost total coverage across the country.
It’s easy to get excited by new technology like FrontlineSMS, and start using it before listening to the people who will receive the information and give them the opportunity to decide if SMS is their preferred communications channel.
Effective information provision to communities of project information requires careful planning - you need to identify who your community audience is, and target your approach to that audience. Luckily, we had the flexibility and time to do this.
Our national and World Vision UK teams developed a simple community assessment questionnaire designed to learn more about community mobile phone usage, the cost of SMS and cell cards, phone ownership and the kind of information people wanted from World Vision.
We learnt a lot. Some of our assumptions were also challenged. Age did not seem to be the big obstacle to mobile phone use as we had anticipated and even the poorest village community members had phones and used SMS. People also wanted to use SMS to report issues of domestic violence in the communities to World Vision staff. Potentially, Frontline SMS might be able to be used for a variety of applications and not only to send information.
Rather than compile a big report about the assessment we set ourselves the challenge of communicating the results in one page - the infographic on the left.
So what next? We’re still SMS novices and learning as we go. We will be trialling the use of Frontline SMS in one village to send SMS to households on the date and time of community meetings and project information. By starting small we hope to learn what works and does not. By getting some wins under our belt we hope to then roll it out to other ADPs.
Last week was an historic one for FrontlineSMS, as we launched Version 2 with successful events in Nairobi and Washington, D.C. FrontlineSMS has come a long way since October 2005, when our founder Ken Banks launched the very first open-source SMS management software. In a blog post last week, Ken shared Seventeen things you might not know about FrontlineSMS. Inspired by Ken's post, here is a history of FrontlineSMS in nine bullet points, ahead of our global Version 2 launch event in London this evening.
- In 2005, FrontlineSMS.com is registered on 6th March, and the beta is released in October. 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).
- 15th November, 2005: We receive an email enquiry from Kubatana, a Zimbabwean civil society organization. Days later FrontlineSMS has its first official implementation. Kubatana still use FrontlineSMS today.
- In 2006, FrontlineSMS begins receiving donor support and fellowship and the following year, the kiwanja Foundation is created to house the growing project.
- In 2008, FrontlineSMS becomes open-source. Josh Nesbit begins working with FrontlineSMS, working intensively with a clinic in Malawi to apply FrontlineSMS to the management and patient care challenges they face, significantly increasing the number of patients seen by health workers, while saving time and money. This narrative, coupled with the work and advocacy that Ken was doing, drives FrontlineSMS adoption and usage considerably.
- In 2009, our Lead Developer Alex joins us – and we began to measure software downloads and build a sector-specific brand with FrontlineSMS:Medic (which has since become Medic Mobile). We win a Silicon Valley Tech Award, and secure funding from OSI, the Hewlett Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. By the end of 2009, FrontlineSMS has been downloaded 4,605 times.
- In 2010, FrontlineSMS adds FrontlineSMS:Credit, FrontlineSMS:Learn, FrontlineSMS:Legal and FrontlineSMS:Radio. Our Founder, Ken Banks, is named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. The Omidyar Network makes us one of their grantees. By the end of 2010, FrontlineSMS has been downloaded 12,395 times.
- In 2011, in response to requests for project support and consulting work, we open a social enterprise which will ultimately support the work of the Foundation and support a different group of users, as well as provide support and technical expertise to specific sectors. During this year, we win the Curry Stone Design Award for social design pioneers and are runners up for the Buckminster Fuller Sustainable Design Award. We receive funding from the Knight Foundation and renew our relationship with the Hewlett Foundation. In 2011, Ken becomes an Ashoka Fellow and wins the Pizzigati Prize for software in the public interest.
- As of December 2011, FrontlineSMS, without having released any new software since summer 2010, has been downloaded over 20,000 times. That number soon grows to over 25,000.
- In 2012 we’ve already released two open beta releases - PaymentView and FrontlineSMS:Learn - and Version 2. Later this year, you’ll see FrontlineSMS:Radio and the early prototype of a web-based version of FrontlineSMS. The FrontlineSMS team has grown from 5 in 2010 to 17 now over three continents. FrontlineSMS has users in over 80 countries across 20 different non-profit sectors, and over 25,000 downloads. The rest – as they say – is history… o/
BBC Click aired an interview with FrontlineSMS founder Ken Banks and its CEO Laura Walker Hudson, on June 12th 2012. To listen in on the interview, please click here.
On Tuesday June 12th, we celebrated the release of FrontlineSMS Version 2 at launch events in Nairobi, Kenya and Washington D.C., US. The London launch event is set for Monday June 18th and is expected to attract an audience of donors, partners, users, and journalists, and will include talks from FrontlineSMS users, Ken, Laura, and one of our most significant donors, the Omidyar Network.
FrontlineSMS has come a long way since October 2005, when our founder Ken Banks launched the very first open-source SMS management software. The team at BBC Click, including Gareth Williams and Bill Thompson, have always been supportive friends of FrontlineSMS and welcomed Laura and Ken to studios in Nairobi and Cambridge to talk about the launch and what it means for the future of the platform.
On 12th June The Next Web recently featured FrontlineSMS as we launched Version 2 of our software. Below is an extract of the blog, and you can also find the original post by clicking here. "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.
FrontlineSMS 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.
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."
For the full article, click here.
Today, FrontlineSMS releases a new version of our award-winning software; more intuitive, simpler to extend and run over networks, and makes it easier to manage larger volumes of messages.
Mobile phones are everywhere. There are now 6 billion active mobile phone connections across the world, an increasing number of which are in emerging markets, in communities who have previously been hard to reach. Recognizing this potential, our Founder, Ken Banks, envisioned FrontlineSMS six and a half years ago as a means to harness the power of mobile to lower barriers to social change. Since then, our open-source SMS-messaging software has been downloaded over 25,000 times, and helps organizations in over 80 countries to overcome their communication challenges to reach millions. Over the last two years, we’ve focussed on gathering user feedback and comments, and planned a roadmap for the software grounded in Ken’s vision, better serving the needs of its community, and well-positioned for a multi-channel, global mobile future.
Since late 2010, feedback from users on the existing platform, and learning from our work with organizations implementing the software, have been generating new designs and ideas. In collaboration with Gabe White, a Kampala-based user experience designer, we redesigned the software to be more intuitive, simpler to extend and run over networks, and make it easier to manage larger volumes of messages. After many months of building and testing - by many of the users in our original design research - we are releasing the first fruits of that work: FrontlineSMS Version 2.
What’s different about the new platform
FrontlineSMS Version 2 makes it easier to create and manage common SMS activities like making announcements, conducting polls and automating replies to incoming SMS. Our polls activity visualizes incoming data, allowing you to quickly understand the results. You 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 you to locate messages based on name, location, or date as well as by activity, group and folder. You can export your messages limited by date range, or from any search result, collection of messages or group of contacts.
The architecture of the new software makes it 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.
User responses to the designs were overwhelmingly positive. One person commented; “it’s a huge leap forward… it feels much more modern and smooth functioning, and the design is nice and clean.” Another said; "this is really phenomenal: I could put it in front of any of our team and they could do awesome things with it."
As Version 2 starts to make its way in the world - it has already been used in over 20 radio stations in Africa - we look forward to hearing more feedback from users about the new software, and what they’d like to see it do next.
The Future of FrontlineSMS
In the coming months and years, we will continue to build on the core, stand-alone software, adding new features, many of which will be new ‘activities’, in the language of Version 2; adding integrations with additional web-based SMS services; and taking a fresh look at critical functionality such as how FrontlineSMS deals with forms-based data collection. Also on the map for later this year is a web-based test platform, which is a first exciting step to a more varied menu of hosting options for our users.
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. The feedback and interaction we have with our users are what makes our software special, and Version 2 is easier to extend than ever before, allowing our Nairobi-based developer team to service more of your requests, more quickly.
The FrontlineSMS specialist sector-specific projects, which focus on using and adapting the software for specific fields such as legal services, education and mobile money - FrontlineSMS:Legal, FrontlineSMS:Learn and FrontlineSMS:Credit - will provide tailored versions of the software designed for their communities to use. FrontlineSMS:Radio is due out later in the year, and will feature specific functionality designed for radio presenters and station managers.
You can download the software, find out more about it, and access screencasts and explanations of the new functionality on our website.
Information about how Version 1 will be supported going forward, and about the timetable for putting remaining Version 1 functionality onto Version 2 is available here.
Here is the latest FrontlineSMS newsletter, updating our community on recent activities and upcoming events. You can check out all the news below, and sign up to receive our e-newsletter directly on the right hand side of the screen.
FrontlineSMS Version 2 Global Launch!
We are excited to announce that we will be releasing FrontlineSMS Version 2 on June 12th 2012. Two years in the making, and built upon extensive input and feedback from our users around the world, this new version of our software is a significant step forward – easier and more intuitive to use, more versatile, and capable of being more easily extended with new functionality.
FrontlineSMS Version 2 will be launched at three events on three continents – in Nairobi, Kenya and Washington, D.C. on the 12th June, and in London, UK on the 18th June. Find out more and sign up to attend these events here, and keep up to date with release news via our blog. Demand for the launch events is high, so make sure to sign up as soon as possible!
Sector Specific Versions of FrontlineSMS
Two of FrontlineSMS’s sector-specific projects – FrontlineSMS:Learn and FrontlineSMS:Credit – have recently released new tailored versions of our software in beta. These tools are currently built on Version 1.7 of FrontlineSMS, but will be extended onto FrontlineSMS Version 2 in future.
FrontlineSMS:Learn is a version of the FrontlineSMS platform that will appeal to educators and development programs all over the world. The FrontlineSMS team, in partnership with the USAID-sponsored SHOPS Project implemented by Abt Associates, Jhpiego, and Marie Stopes International, designed this tool to help local schools, trainers, and educators increase knowledge retention, facilitate long-term changes in behavior, and, ultimately, improve the quality of education and training in the last mile. You can find out more and access FrontlineSMS:Learn in beta here.
FrontlineSMS:Credit’s first software product, PaymentView, was launched a few months ago, and since then the team has been hard at work bringing on new partners and expanding our user base in Kenya. So far, we have a Financial Services Association using PaymentView to receive group loan repayments and a microinsurance provider using PaymentView to receive policy premium payments. Over the next few weeks, we’ll also be adding another Financial Services Association and an agribusiness, which will use PaymentView to manage a network of sales agents working in rural areas. You can find out more and access FrontlineSMS:Credit’s PaymentView in beta here.
The Future of FrontlineSMS
Last week we announced some big changes to the FrontlineSMS management team, with our Founder Ken Banks making a transition and stepping back from daily operations. Going forward, Laura Walker Hudson and Sean Martin McDonald will be FrontlineSMS CEOs. You can read more about this new management structure and our plans for the future here. Its a very exciting time for us here at FrontlineSMS, with new software being released and our team and community growing at an unprecedented rate, driving innovation in mobile technology all over the world. We are very much looking forward to what comes next!
News from the Community o/
FrontlineSMS prides itself on our active and global user community. There have now been over 25,000 downloads of our software, and our online community forum has over 2,500 members regularly interacting on FrontlineSMS use. Below you will find the latest news from our buzzing user community.
Face-to-Face User Support at FrontlineSMS Drop-ins
To help users get started with our software and troubleshoot any problems, we currently offer free user support via our community forum and online resources. Since March 2012 we’ve also been offering face-to-face help through our new monthly user support drop-in sessions. These are currently held in our Nairobi, Washington, D.C. and London offices. The details of drop-in sessions will regularly be updated here. Don’t forget to email us via firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know if you plan to join the sessions in-person, and you can also feel free to join online via Skype (ID: FrontlineSMS_Support) or Twitter (@FrontlineSMS).
Global User Meet-ups Continue to Grow
FrontlineSMS users have been connecting with each other across the world to share their own knowledge and experiences of using our software. These user meet-ups started in Haiti at the end of last year, and there have since been meetings in Uganda, Cambodia and Kenya. They are driven by the passion and engagement of FrontlineSMS users and our FrontlineSMS Heroes, too. You can read more about this on our blog, and if you’d like to suggest a meet-up in your area you can do so via this group on our community forum. FrontlineSMS Community Survey Results
Towards the end of 2011 we launched our second user survey, which ran until the beginning of 2012 and now, the results are in. In the survey responses an incredible 97% of people said they’d recommend FrontlineSMS to others. We also found that people are using and testing FrontlineSMS in over 80 countries across the world, with Kenya and the Philippines leading the field. You can read more about the results on our blog. Thank you so much to all those who responded to our survey – we really appreciate knowing more about our vibrant global community of users! o/
FrontlineSMS in Action
It is inspiring for us to see the many ways our software is used across the world. Thank you to all those users who have shared their stories of FrontlineSMS in action. Recent highlights include: * Citizen journalists empower communities in Indonesia * Ministry of agriculture in Cambodia use FrontlineSMS * Engaging Afghan radio audiences through SMS * Sharing women’s social knowledge in Sri Lanka * Coordinating use of FrontlineSMS at next Kenyan elections * SMS helps improve service delivery after Pakistan floods
If you would like to share your story of FrontlineSMS in action email email@example.com to let us know!
New user resources
FrontlineSMS now has a wide range of free user resources available on our website. The below are a few new resources produced in recent months. These resources have been created based on Version 1 of FrontlineSMS, but where relevant we will be updating them following Version 2’s release. We hope you find them helpful!
* Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on FrontlineSMS The FrontlineSMS community forum provides a place for users to interact with each other and our team, and ask questions about our sofrware. We have collated the most frequently asked questions from the forum into a FAQ to provide an accessible way for you to find out more about FrontlineSMS. * Communications for Change: How to use text messaging as an effective behavior change campaigning tool This resource, produced collaboratively with Text to Change, provides an introductory guide, suggesting some key points which can usefully be considered if you are planning to use SMS as a campaign tool. * Step-by-step guide on using FrontlineSMS with Ushahidi Synching FrontlineSMS with mapping tool Ushahidi enables users to map and visualize incoming SMS reports, which can be useful in a wide variety of ways. FrontlineSMS have produced this step-by-step guide together with the folks at Ushahidi in order to make it easier to synch our software with both Ushahidi and their cloud-based mapping tool, Crowdmap.
Global FrontlineSMS team continues to grow
Since the beginning of 2012 we have taken on 6 new team members; 3 in our Nairobi office and 3 in our Washington, D.C. office. We currently have 17 people in our offices across the UK, Kenya and the US, and our team is still growing! The recent additions to our team are as follows: * Three new Developers: Joy Kendi, Vaneyck Otoki, Sitati Kituyi * Cathryn Paine, Operations Manager in our Washington, D.C. office * Chris Albon, Governance Project Director * Simon Choi, Head of Finance You can find out more about them on the team page of our website.
We also bid farewell to one of our Developers, David Kutalek, who has been a key member of our team in Nairobi for a year. We wish David all the best in his new role as co-Founder of Spatial Collective.
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Thanks for reading our latest newsletter – we hope you’ve enjoyed it and we’d love to hear what you think. Let us know your views, your requests for future newsletters and any other comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The FrontlineSMS Team