Introducing FrontlineSync!

Introducing FrontlineSync!

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.

We Think This Means We're Officially Cool...

We Think This Means We're Officially Cool...

Most days, we roll out of bed and drink a bunch of coffee and then spend the next ten hours diligently writing code and emails and grant applications.  Not exactly the rock star lifestyle, but we're terrible at playing the guitar and have gotten kicked off of karaoke stages, so we understand.

The View from 100,000

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.

News Participation Starts at 'Home'

Seemingly every major news event worldwide is heightening participation in news. People are eager to share updates and photos of an unfolding news event, ask questions of media outlets, and share important information. But there are two important aspects to this type of participation: (1) people are most interested in sharing news about the community around them, specifically with others in their community and (2) the mechanism by which they choose to share information is dependent upon personal habits and access. In other words, people write about their immediate world using their 'home' or go-to platform.

The Unheard Millions: A New Audience Joins Global News Conversations

On Friday, August 31st 2012 PBS featured a blog post written by Trevor Knoblich, our Media Project Manager. The post focused on our plans to integrate journalism tools into FrontlineSMS, enabling news-gatherers all over the world to integrate SMS more easily into their work. Thanks to PBS for allowing us to repost the piece here - you can find the original on the PBS Media Shift website. If you are interested in hearing more about our work, please email to get in touch with the team.

By Trevor Knoblich, Media Project Manager

The field of journalism has faced a number of technology-driven changes in the past decade, including the advent of blogs, the generating and sharing of news via social media, and the tentative move by many governments to provide open data.

So many elements of news have evolved that many experts think we're on the verge of a revolution in digital journalism, including Google's director of news and social products, Richard Gingras. "The media landscape is in the process of being completely transformed, tossed upside down; reinvented and restructured in ways we know, and in ways we do not yet know," Gingras argued recently during a keynote address at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass and Communication. "The process of change is far from over. Indeed, it will never be over."


When thinking about all of these changes, I find one shift particularly inspiring: the growing concept of news as a participatory process. In the past, news was produced largely by media outlets and consumed by readers, viewers, or listeners -- a passive audience. Of course, now we view news as a lively and active discussion, in which former "consumers" participate in sharing stories, providing news tips, raising questions, and adding depth and context to stories.

Chris Lehmann, former chief of Yahoo News, recently told the New York Times' David Carr, "News is an activity, a verb really." He was primarily referring to the editorial room, but I think this now equally applies to all people who regularly read, share, write, and contribute to news. We live in an active news culture, in which stories are rarely static, breaking news reaches the world in a matter of seconds, and average citizens have access to many tools to provide news tips, content, and context nearly instantaneously.

This access has been described as public, participatory or citizen journalism, with varying definitions for each -- and no definition that everyone can agree on. That said, regardless of the title we give to this shift in news culture, the combination of ways in which people can contribute to news is encouraging. The more people are seeking, discussing, and shaping information, the closer we may get to a common understanding of the issues and challenges we face in our community, region, nation, or planet. This shift also allows information to spread quickly, and reach more people.


With this in mind, I accepted my role at FrontlineSMS with a specific purpose: to extend global participation in news to people who otherwise would be left out of this shift, meaning those with no or infrequent access to the Internet. Lack of Internet access should not exclude people from receiving, discussing, and shaping the news that affects their lives. And while many people still lack Internet access, nearly everyone has access to a mobile phone, and by extension SMS.

SMS is the most pervasive digital communications platform in existence. As such, news outlets can use SMS to invite more people to participate in news in a variety of ways. Participants may be trained citizen journalists, eyewitnesses sharing news tips or photos, or even commentators on important stories.

Yes, this brings with it the challenge of vetting information, verifying senders, and devising clever mechanisms for being inclusive of a variety of different voices. But I believe we can meet those challenges, and the result will be a more robust audience participating in news in a more informed way. In fact, I've already seen inspiring examples of this from our user base at FrontlineSMS.

In one example, Al Jazeera noticed that while many people around the world were discussing the viral, controversial Kony 2012 video, there was a glaring gap in input from people in Uganda, where much of the discussion is focused. In response, Al Jazeera established the Uganda Speaks program, allowing people in Uganda to join the conversation in a variety of formats, including SMS, e-mail, Twitter and Facebook. For those without Internet access, SMS became a critical channel to weigh in on the global dialogue.

In another example, Indonesian television station RuaiTV trained citizen journalists in a method for texting information on illicit activities by palm oil companies. Citizen journalists would text or call with information about suspected wrongdoings, and RuaiTV would follow up on the news tips. In this manner, citizens were actively working to hold companies and governments accountable to the local legal framework.

At FrontlineSMS, we are motivated by these and similar user stories. These organizations are working to lower the barriers for participating in news debates, whether they are local or global. Via SMS, we can now invite many more people to receive news, share new ideas, and foster discussion around topics that are important to them. In many cases, people have this type of access for the first time in their lives. Thanks to the creativity of our users, potentially millions of new voices are now invited to participate in news. It will be thrilling to hear what they have to say.

Trevor Knoblich works as Project Manager for FrontlineSMS, a 2011 Knight News Challenge winner. He began his career as a federal policy reporter in Washington, DC,then spent 5 years working as a humanitarian specialist. He currently works on issues at the intersection of journalism, technology and developing countries. At FrontlineSMS, he is building tools to help journalists and media outlets around the world improve their ability to gather, track and share news.

FrontlineSMS brings mobile tools to new audiences

caption id="attachment_7443" align="alignright" width="300" caption="'Doing' the FrontlineSMS empowerment logo \o/ "] Our latest FrontlineSMS e-newsletter is out now, and shows that it has been another packed few months at FrontlineSMS!

Our newsletter comes out every few months, and provides an update on FrontlineSMS community news and our upcoming activities. You can subscribe to our e-newsletter on the right hand side of the screen, and you can now read the latest edition online, which includes:

Take a read of our latest e-newsletter here to find out more. And don't forget, you can subscribe to our e-newsletter on the right hand side of the screen, if you'd like to receive our updates straight to your inbox!

FrontlineSMS @ Africa Gathering 2011

By Nsonje Siame and Hussain Abdullah

Africa Gathering is a unique platform which allows NGOs, donors, journalists and academics to come together to connect and explore ideas on "positive change in sustainable development, technology, social networking, health, education, environment and good governance in Africa." The most recent Africa Gathering was hosted at the London-based Guardian building on Monday 20th June 2011. The chosen theme for this event was "New Media Revolutionizing Africa", and it inspired interesting ideas, insightful discussions and some energetic debates between the presenters and delegates.

Sharath Srinivasan, co-founder of FrontlineSMS:Radio presented at the event  about how simple and adaptable solutions can be the most effective in promoting dialogue and interactive communications in Africa. Sharath argued that new social media's relevance in Africa hinges on an understanding of context. What is necessary is what Sharath referred to as a 'pull method,' understood as the ways in which technology is shaped by those using it.

Tami Hultman, co-founder of, emphasized the desire from African's to have the tools necessary to tell their story, and it is this same desire that underpins the ethos of FrontlineSMS:Radio – the objective of empowering people. The social issues in any given country are best understood by its citizens and so too are the solutions.

Many of the participants at the conference agreed that IT literacy, and indeed infrastructure, are not yet at a level for new forms of social media to overtake other existing communications tools. The consensus was that there continues to be an important place for traditional media. Some discussion was dedicated to the continuing conflicts in North Africa, for instance, as it was recognised that while the rise in use of new, internet based tools such as Facebook and Twitter have facilitated communications channels for social mobilisation to increasing numbers of people; there is a danger of creating new forms of inequality. In many contexts, new media does not have the same pervasiveness or reach as mediums such as newspapers, radios and mobile phones. At the local level, the tools required for change are often already in people’s hands; the challenge is making them work effectively to meet the needs of the context.

It was argued that change must be bottom-up, and begin by supporting grass roots initiatives to acquire the tools which suit their needs. If kept simple, social media devices such as the traditional radio combined with simple, cheap low-spec devices, like a mobile phone, can enhance the interactivity of radio to produce better intra-community experiences. By removing barriers of communication between community members and leaders, it becomes easier to foster a strong and engaged civil society.

For more information on Africa Gathering visit:

Pamoja FM: Strengthening Social Networks in Kibera

y Emil Græsholm. Reposted from the FrontlineSMS:Radio blog

Pamoja FM is a community radio station located within the Kibera slum in Nairobi. The slum is a lively, vibrant place and is characterised by a continuous buzz of activity. Operating from a small office at the top of a tall building overlooking Kibera, the station has close ties with the slum as the community are actively involved in contributing to the broadcast content. Pamoja FM has received its primary funding from USAid and it focuses on community issues through debates and feature broadcasts, as well as airing a range of music shows and news. Emil Græsholm, who is currently studying at Cambridge University, visited Kibera in December 2010 and here he shares his experiences working alongside staff at Pamoja FM.

Community Radio When I visited Pamoja in December 2010 the staff, and especially the director Adam Hussein, were very open and friendly, inviting me to understand the inside of Kibera and the workings of the station. At Pamoja FM, everyone is a volunteer and many of the reporters are interns.

The station has a director, Adam Hussein who is supported by several editors including programme editor, Philip Muhatia and news editor, Thomas Bwire. In practice, however, the organisation structure is very flexible and flat, and requires reporter and technical staff to undertake a variety of tasks, including story collection, sound editing, broadcasting on air and researching. Local content from the slum is collected by the reporters and sometimes delivered on-air by the community. National and international content is mainly adapted from other media sources such as newspapers and television as it is filtered or moderated to fit the needs of the community…… (read more on the FrontlineSMS:Radio)

Latest FrontlineSMS newsletter: Community news and upcoming plans!

What a busy few months it has been at FrontlineSMS! Our latest FrontlineSMS e-newsletter is out now, and really demonstrates just how much has been going on. You can read the newsletter online here.

Our newsletter comes out every two months, and provides an update on FrontlineSMS community news and upcoming activities. The latest edition includes:

  • What's in store for FrontlineSMS Version 2 - Plans for updating our core software
  • Finding the best phones and modems for FrontlineSMS - Details of our new crowd-sourced device database
  • Who's using FrontlineSMS - Our first ever user survey results!
  • FrontlineSMS Heroes - Latest on our volunteers and interns
  • 'Giving radio listeners a voice' - update from FrontlineSMS:Radio
  • FrontlineSMS users share their stories - Latest news on how FrontlineSMS software is being used across the world (shared both via our blog, and in our National Geographic Mobile Message series)
  • Award-winning software - Recent prizes and award nominations received by FrontlineSMS and our Founder, Ken Banks

Take a read of our latest e-newsletter to find out more here.

You can also subscribe to our e-newsletter on the right hand side of the screen.