http trigger

“We are local. We live and love Cambridge.” An Innovative SMS setup at a UK Community Radio

By Peter Westman, FrontlineSMS:Radio Intern

Whilst FrontlineSMS is well known for being used in low infrastructure environments with little or no internet access and limited smart phone availability amongst audiences, we often hear cases of the software being used in contexts to complement many other technology options available. While Amy and I were in Cambridge in the UK a few weeks ago visiting colleagues at Cambridge University’s Centre of Governance and Human Rights, we also had the pleasure of dropping in to visit Cambridge 105, a community radio that broadcasts live across the city 7 days a week.

The station is a not-for-profit organization that draws on its wide range of volunteer members for all aspects of production throughout the day. Cambridge 105 actively uses social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook as part of their audience engagement strategy. They are also using FrontlineSMS in a very innovative way in order to help listeners interact with the presenters using text message.

Audience participation is popular at Cambridge 105, particularly during the breakfast and drive-time shows. Axel Minet (photo right), who works at the station, described how one of the most powerful appeals of Cambridge 105 is that the issues discussed are locally relevant and personal to the community. The station’s leaflets even say: “We are local. We live and love Cambridge.” The station has shows which are particularly popular with their Cambridge listeners, share local news and even once helped a local pet owner to find a lost cat.

Listeners are often invited to request songs and dedications via text message which are relayed to the relevant DJ. Using the FrontlineSMS as a “back end” (i.e. DJs do not need to directly enter the application), Cambridge 105 have designed a unique system in order to ensure messages reach the appropriate DJ. They have developed a customized PHP script, which is used to create dynamic web-based content. This is synchronized with Google Calendar containing the DJ schedule. When an SMS reaches FrontlineSMS, a query based on the message’s time stamp is sent to the calendar which works out the corresponding e-mail of the DJ who is on air. The message is then forwarded to the DJ in their email account using a http trigger and presenters can access the content from the studio computer while they are presenting.

By widely publicizing the contact number for the station, the station is also looking to increase participation from audiences, particularly so that those without smart phones (about half of the UK) can contribute to their favorite shows while on the move. Axel pointed out the notices displayed in the DJ booth and around the station, which explain how audiences can contact the show. These notices serve as a reminder for DJs that they must remind audiences of ways they can participate and interact, and Axel stressed the importance of repeating the number throughout the show (not just the beginning and end).

It is especially important for community stations to be able to learn about their audience so that they can tailor their programming towards their listeners’ concerns. The station manager at Cambridge 105 is interested in analytics around interaction. Being a digital form of communication, SMS is a great way to monitor this and offer metrics to advertisers. Advertising is important for the survival of Cambridge 105 who offer local sponsorship packages targeted to a potential audience of 150,000 Cambridge based customers, making it an effective marketing medium. Moreover audiences don’t feel advertising is an invasion as messages more likely to be targeted to their local needs.

Axel observed that FrontlineSMS software offers both a flexible back end which can be customized for their specific needs, while also permitting presenters to collect useful feedback and information from their audience in a simple and unobtrusive format. You can find Cambridge 105 at and even listen online.

If you’re using Frontline as part of your programming, we’d love to hear from you on

FrontlineSMS used for Inclusive Arts Project in UK

FrontlineSMS really is used all across the world. It is not only used in economically developing countries, but can be used as a tool to connect people in many different contexts. An example of this is the use of our software by interactive arts trio, Invisible Flock. Here Ben Eaton, lead creative at Invisible Flock discusses the way FrontlineSMS is used:

Here at Invisible Flock we make large scale interactive work that ranges from public art, to games, to digital work. We are based in the UK, and at the heart of all that we do is the desire to empower our audiences through participation.

In a way it feels peculiar to be using a platform that is designed and well-documented in its use for some very serious real world applications, however FrontlineSMS has quickly become a central tool in our work.

The reasons we use SMS messages as a platform are, from a design perspective, likely not that different from why the other organisations and NGOs employ them.  Our work seeks to engage our participants in a direct and intimate manner, allowing them interactions outside of the traditional space and time of art consumption.  This means you don’t have to be in a gallery on a Friday evening for you to take part in the work we create.  Using SMS permits us to interweave what we do into the daily lives of our participants in a manner that is both very personal and unobtrusive.

We have been using FrontlineSMS for a year or so and very heavily in the last four to five months. In our most recent piece entitled Your Government Has Gone To Sleep (YGHGTS), we waged a game of revolution in the Chapeltown area of UK city Leeds.  We invited residents to sign up to our game and, over the course of a week, we allowed them to become part of a revolutionary movement orchestrated by text message—in which they communicated with each other and took part in a series of small acts of peaceful revolution that re-examined the makeup of that community.

FrontlineSMS enabled us to quickly and easily create a reactive platform to manage and filter our conversations with players in our game.  We are always conscious, working in the field of interactive art, of the risk of exclusion due to a potential player’s inability to access the technology, and, as such, we shy away from using smart phones and platforms that are likely to actively isolate.  SMS messaging is ubiquitous and cheap and, as such, presents an easy manner for players to enter into our games and for them to continue with it.

We create interaction with FrontlineSMS by making heavy use of the keyword function, grouping participants into subgroups that represent either their progression in a piece’s story or their response to specific questions of tasks.  We allocate codenames to players that also serve as keywords that allow our FrontlineSMS setup to serve as a hub for players to communicate with each other whilst still remaining anonymous.

Perhaps most interestingly for us however is the integration of HTTP trigger commands into FrontlineSMS, as it enables us to create complex interactive responses to participants messages.  In YGHGTS, we used the keyword MANIFESTO to enable participants to input their own political manifestos to a website which updated every few seconds—allowing them to submit content and see it appear almost instantly on the monitor in front of them.  The beauty of FrontlineSMS is that with a keyword, an HTTP command, a simple five-line PHP script and a MySQL database at the other end, we can quickly set up an effective interactive environment.

The ability to use SMS messages to communicate out from FrontlineSMS to a wide variety of applications including physical objects in the real world makes it an invaluable platform in our work.  In the next few weeks, we are creating a series of autonomous interactive explorations of the city of Bradford.  We are using text messages to trigger and orchestrate journeys that take participants to multiple locations, receive phone calls and trigger events in the real world.

We use a software platform called VVVV to run our complicated multimedia environments and we use the inbuilt HTTP command capabilities of FrontlineSMS to integrate VVVV perfectly.  Above is an image showing the simplest setup, using a HTTP command sent from FrontlineSMS to VVVV to trigger playback of an audio file. The same process can then be reversed to control responses and trigger SMS messages from events monitored in the real world by the computer or hardware platforms such as Arduinos.

With this setup, FrontlineSMS becomes almost infinitely extendable, and surpasses its own inbuilt capabilities.  We are currently gearing up to launch a series of interactive journeys across a UK city, which will be our most ambitious project involving FrontlineSMS to date. At the height of the experience we are creating participants will be able to trigger content on a city centre big screen by sending a text message — a very real physical impact from a simple SMS, and all run through FrontlineSMS.

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Here at FrontlineSMS look forward to staying in touch with the Invisible Flock team as they continue to use FrontlineSMS in new and exciting ways! To find out more about Invisible Flock’s work visit You can also watch a video about some of their recent work here.