Your stories are our bread and butter

Friday morning saw me zooming up Portobello Road in west London, cursing the tourists and looking forward to a large flat white with some new acquaintances - I was meeting with a couple of people have just started to use FrontlineSMS for campaigning. This is an increasingly common, and always delightful, part of my job. I generally pepper people with questions, exclaim 'that's interesting' every ten seconds, and scribble furious notes. Often, people ask for advice - what's the best way to fit this into our programme? How should we pilot? How much will it cost? The thing is, I'm not the expert, hence all my questions - but I know where to find the real pros.

FrontlineSMS are a diverse bunch, based all over the world, as our new Member Map is beginning to show. You're working on projects in all sorts of fields, from safe motherhood, to community cohesion, to citizen journalism, to minority rights activism, and all points between and beyond. And YOU are the FrontlineSMS implementation experts. We know the theory, and of course we know the software, but there's no substitute for experience when it comes to finding ways around the real world pitfalls and problems that users encounter. So if anything, I'm less an expert myself, and more of a matchmaker, linking people using FrontlineSMS in similar ways; or a librarian, remembering stories of past solutions and pointing them out to people encountering a similar problem.

So where do we find these examples? Well, face to face meetings are probably the richest way for us to find out what you're up to. We'll go anywhere! Send us an email and we'll hop on a plane, train or death-defying local form of motorbike transport and come see you. Failing that,  we often give examples from our guest posts, or from email correspondence with unfailingly generous people all over the world who have millions of things to do, and yet still find the time to sit down and tell us what they're up to.

We're also working with a couple of our users to write up glossy, jointly-branded case studies, which get into a bit more technical detail than a guest post can, try to show the impact FrontlineSMS has had, and even list local suppliers. The idea is that FrontlineSMS users should be able to use these documents themselves to explain the SMS portion of their project to their own donors and stakeholders. They'll also be an invaluable resource for others looking to implement a similar programme. Watch this space for the first case study in the next few weeks.

At a more basic level, we need more data about who's using FrontlineSMS - we need to know who you are, where you are, and what you're doing. People like numbers - what, where, how many. For this reason, we added a small tool to a recent version of FrontlineSMS that offers to send back anonymised statistics to us (more on that in a future blogpost, as they've only just started to come in).We'll also be running a user survey in September to try and get a better picture of how FrontlineSMS is being used. Finally, in 2011 we'll be working on allowing you to register your copy of FrontlineSMS.

All this information gathering has three purposes:

  1. We find that it's only when we get to know you that we start to hear what we should be improving, what not's working, what else we should add. All the new features we've added (Translation Manager, Forms, and the HTTP trigger) have been in response to your feedback. And it's only when you tell us that we know something's not working - users reported a problem with the software on Monday morning, and we had it fixed and a new version uploaded within a few hours.
  2. As I said above, you're the experts. Hearing from you means we can share more with other users, and help give people ideas for how to use FrontlineSMS in their own work.
  3. We can explain to our donors and supporters what FrontlineSMS is achieving in the world, which enables them to keep supporting us, and in turn, lets us keep doing all the things we do to keep FrontlineSMS evolving and keep the community flourishing.

Your stories keep us improving; keep us innovating; and keep the lights on in the office. Better still, they help inspire other users. Do you have a story to tell?

Mountain meets mobile

In the twenty-first in our series of FrontlineSMS guest posts, Laura Hartstone – one of the organisers behind the “3 Peaks 3 Weeks” Challenge – updates us on their recent use of FrontlineSMS to provide daily climbing SMS updates to supporters around the world "Keeping in touch with family and friends while in Africa can be a challenge, and even more so while climbing Africa’s highest peaks. Remarkably, mobile phone connections can be picked up from the tall grass plains of the Serengeti to the tallest summit, Uhuru Point - Mount Kilimanjaro.

Every January a team of a dozen women from all areas of the world unite in East Africa to take on three of Africa's highest peaks. After fundraising the previous year for three "peak" issues affecting Africa - namely health, the environment and education - the teams aim to use their time in Africa as a holiday. Coined the "3 Peaks 3 Weeks Challenge", the team must complete all three mountains (Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya and Mount Meru) within 21 days.

To stay in touch with family and friends during the climbs in January this year, the 3 Peaks team used FrontlineSMS. With shaky internet connections in town and heavy power rationing in the cities this past year, the base camp computer was strategically placed in the Serengeti. At this location, the use of solar power and battery banks ensured that both internet and electricity were reliable.

The team then chose a phone (with the support of GSM Association) that had a small integrated solar panel to ensure the team could keep it charged while hiking. All that was then needed was a Safaricom SIM card that provided the team with mobile phone connectivity in both Kenya and Tanzania.

Ready to go, with mobile phone in hand, the team set off for Mount Kenya. Family and friends had subscribed to their FrontlineSMS group list and eagerly awaited updates. Luckily for all, along the way the team sent various SMS reports on their status.

Our sun dances are not working yet. The rain persists and snow arrived this morning. All well regardless and en route to summit tonight

All 11 of us just reached the top of Mt Kenya to a magnificent sunrise

Team was greeted by a beautiful sunrise on the summit of Mount Kenya yesterday morning. Have just arrived at Met Station (alt 3050m) and were greeted by some amazing singing by the porters. All doing really well and having a great time. Also a monkey ate our soap

After Mount Kenya the team traveled across the Kenyan border to Tanzania. They had a quick two days of rest and then headed up Mount Meru, a four day climb. Again with their mobile phone in hand, they kept all of their supporters well informed of their status.

Texting you from the summit of mount meru! Yeehaa! All tired and elated

The number of subscribers increased as the team headed for their final peak - Mount Kilimanjaro. And as they climbed higher, the texts got more and more interesting.

Celebrating Australia Day up here. Just reached top of Barranco Wall. Please send more milo!

We are preparing for summit night on kili tonight. We’re all excited and a little nervous too. The weather has been good so hoping for a beautiful sunrise in 12 hours time. Wish us well

And perhaps the most exciting message was received the next day.

We ROCK! All 11 of us summited Kili this morning at 715am. Delighted, excited and exhausted!

Many thanks to FrontlineSMS, the GSMA and Safaricom for helping make our LIVE updates brilliantly easy and exciting for our supporters to receive. 3 Peaks 3 Weeks is excited to use them again next year!"

[This story was also covered by the GSMA on their Development Fund blog].

For more information:

The “3 Peaks 3 Weeks” website: More on live updates: Contact me:

Mountain-top texting for charity

In the seventeenth in our series of FrontlineSMS guest posts, Laura Hartstone – one of the organisers behind the "3 Peaks 3 Weeks" Challenge – talks about their plans to use FrontlineSMS to provide daily climbing updates to supporters around the world via SMS The 3 Peaks 3 Weeks Challenge is an annual all-female climbing event which aims to summit three of Africa’s highest peaks in less than three weeks raising money and awareness for the three peak issues currently facing Africa; environment, education, and health.

The challenge is organized in partnership with Save the Rhino International (SRI). They help with event management and logistics as well as collecting and distributing raised funds to the three pre-selected non-profit organisations in Africa.

Photo courtesy Laura Hartstone

3 Peaks 3 Weeks provides an opportunity for women around the world to experience the diverse culture and beauty of East Africa while contributing to ongoing development efforts. To date the event has raised over half a million dollars. On January 9th, 2010 the third annual team will take on the challenge. Eleven women from Canada, USA, UK, Australia and Ireland will unite in Africa. The task will be difficult - and their effort, monumental.

Over the past year the team has held events, fundraisers, and walked the streets of their hometowns seeking donations to support grassroots initiatives in East Africa. Even during the current economic hardships, they have managed to raise over $100,000. With passion to help make poverty history, and outstanding commitment to social responsibility, these women are inspiring people around the world.

The 3 Peaks 3 Weeks team will now use FrontlineSMS to stay in touch with supporters, friends and family while on the mountain. The team will carry a mobile phone and send a LIVE update via SMS to base camp. From base camp, the SMS will instantly reach supporters around the globe using FrontlineSMS' 'auto-forward' functionality. Hear which girls are getting altitude sickness, who can’t sleep at night, what food they are being served, and when they make it to the summit! You can subscribe to the live updates by texting the word CLIMB to +255 688 905 872. You will get an automated reply either immediately, or within a day or two, confirming your subscription! Thanks.

More information is available here:

The "3 Peaks 3 Weeks" website: More on live updates: Contact me: