Over the last decade, we’ve changed leadership, structure, and product – but what hasn’t changed is our values. Here are 5 of our favorites:
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.
Yesterday, our Founder Ken announced some exciting changes to the way we’re doing things at FrontlineSMS. Today, we’d like to tell you just a little bit more. It’s a tremendous and exciting honor to be a part of FrontlineSMS. The FrontlineSMS team and community are growing at an unprecedented rate, driving innovation in mobile technology all over the world. Over the course of the last year and a half, our team has grown by 400 percent, started four new projects, and completely redesigned the core software. The FrontlineSMS community has grown to include thousands of users, finding innovative applications of the software to drive social change in more than 80 countries. Today’s team covers three continents and supports 2,500 forum members, hundreds of active users, and partners all over the world.
Although our team and organization are growing and changing, our mission remains the same: FrontlineSMS uses mobile technology to facilitate social change. While our evolution reflects the growth of SMS as a communications platform and its increasing professionalization, we’re guided by Ken’s focus on last-mile communities, locally appropriate technology, and easy-to-use tools. We’ve built a hybrid organizational structure that will continue to distribute free and open-source software to thousands of users, while building new, more sophisticated tools that meet growingly complex needs.
One of the major lessons we’ve learned from FrontlineSMS users has been how many barriers to communication are human, as opposed to technological. Effective mobile engagement depends on program design, professional capacity, infrastructure, culture and any number of other factors. To help users overcome these challenges, we’ve developed a wide range of consulting and support services that help connect industries to the communities they value most.
Since Ken invited us to join his senior management team in 2010, we have worked together to bring our core values and focus on the last mile into a larger vision and more ambitious approach for our organization. In 2012, we’ll be releasing four new FrontlineSMS products, including Version 2 of the core platform, a completely redesigned application that’s faster, easier to use, and more capable of handling complex tasks. Our users will be able to do more with larger volumes of SMS data, as we add automated data processing and visualization tools, and customize the application for specific sectors. We will continue to grow our library of free, accessible, field-focused resources on the best ways to use our mobile technologies to foster social change.
On a personal note, we’d like to thank Ken, the FrontlineSMS community, and our growing team for their innovative leadership and dedication. Ken has been a visionary mentor to both of us as we’ve grown into these roles over the last 18 months. There’s no question that he’s built more than software and a community - Ken has helped drive the way that we think about communicating. The FrontlineSMS community is, and has always been, comprised of organizations and problem-solvers who are inventing the future of mobile, one idea at a time. We couldn't be more excited to lead FrontlineSMS into its next stage of growth or more fortunate to have such inspirational guidance. More than anything, we look forward to what comes next and discovering it together.
Thanks and Best Wishes
Laura and Sean
Throughout 2011, FrontlineSMS has supported an increasingly global and active community of those using our software for social change. We also have a growing team working on improving our software, our resources and our sector-specific projects. We have therefore decided to update our website layout to more effectively represent all of this, and much more! Hopefully the website now more effectively introduces who we are and what we do, and also better represents our vibrant user community too. Below you can find a summary of the website's new layout, and a description of how to navigate the new content.
We have made these changes in preparation for a more significant website re-design due in 2012. Your views are important to this process, so it would be great if you provide us with some feedback here; share your opinion on the current changes, and let us know what you would like to see more of in the future!
Summary of current changes
The About us section explains who we are and what we do as an organization. You can find new content on how FrontlineSMS was first created and the awards we have received for our work since we started out in 2005. You can also find information on our sector-specific projects, our team and opportunities to join our team, and last - but not least - our valued supporters who make all that we do possible. We hope this section provides you with a clear introduction to our work.
FrontlineSMS software is purposefully designed to be easy to access and set up. The software section of the website is where you can download FrontlineSMS software and get started! This section also introduces some of our software functionality, explains the phones or modems you can use to get started, how to upgrade from previous versions and also how to use our data collection tool, FrontlineForms. Watch this space for upcoming content on our new software release due in 2012.
We are currently in the process of building up a growing collection of resources to help enable people and organizations to make use of our software successfully. We have divided our resources into easily accessible sections on getting started, managing your data, and data integrity. If you are stuck, then you can visit the Help page for a summary of all free resources and support available to you. You can expect to see more of our growing selection of resources published here in 2012, too.
This is a brand new section on our site, aiming to highlight the fantastic and innovative work done by FrontlineSMS users across the world. You can check out the growing collection of user guest posts and case studies, as well as see a world map of those who have downloaded and are actively using FrontlineSMS across the world. You can also find photos, video and audio from our team and our users, and you can also check out our amazing FrontlineSMS Heroes – those interns and volunteers who help support FrontlineSMS’s global presence. If you’re using FrontlineSMS for your work visit this section to find out all the ways you can get involved!
Another brand new section of the site; the press section is for those interested in keeping up to date with recent FrontlineSMS news and events. You will find our press kit page, which provides an easily accessible summary of the main areas of our work. You will also find summaries of the many external publications which have featured FrontlineSMS; including academic articles, books and reports. In addition we now have an events calendar, which may be quiet at the moment due to the upcoming holiday season but in 2012 will quickly be filled with events which FrontlineSMS have organized or are speaking at. There is also an option to contact us from the press page, and this is where you will find all general contact information, too.
FrontlineSMS is open source software, so here you will find access to our source code freely available and this can be modified to your heart's content! From this page you can also find out how to connect with our developer team.
Here you can expect the same regular and engaging posts from the FrontlineSMS team and guest posts from our buzzing user community. If you are using FrontlineSMS and would like to contribute to our blog then get in touch!
Our vibrant community forum continues to grow. We now have well over 2,000 members, who engage daily on the many uses of FrontlineSMS software. A recent additional feature on the forum is a "meet-ups" group, where those interested in FrontlineSMS can suggest opportunity to get together with others in their local region who are using or planning to use our software.
What’s in store for 2012
In the near future you can expect more user resources and case studies, as well as exciting updates on the software section as we prepare for a new release in 2012. In 2012 we will be preparing for a major website re-design, and we want to hear from you on the features you would like to see. So use our feedback function here to comment on current changes and make suggestions for future too! We look forward to hearing from you!
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Huge thanks go to Lisa La Rochelle and Tim Howe for their amazing support in making these changes to our site! And thanks to all others who contributed their ideas and feedback, too. We look forward to improving our website further in 2012!
As the founder of FrontlineSMS, Ken Banks has been widely recognised for his work in giving grassroots groups the world over the capacity to interact, cheaply and simply, with constituents in remote communities. As a result of his impressive work Ken has recently become the fifth annual winner of the Antonio Pizzigati Prize for Software in the Public Interest.
The $10,000 Pizzigati Prize honors software developers who, in the spirit of open source computing, are fashioning exceptional applications for aid activists and nonprofits. Tides — a partner to philanthropists, foundations, activists, and organisations worldwide — hosts the prize selection process.
Ken created FrontlineSMS because it speaks directly to a global communications reality: Millions of people in remote areas have no access whatsoever to the Internet. But many of these millions do have simple mobile phones. FrontlineSMS enables grassroots groups to reach these millions, using only a laptop computer, a USB cable, and a basic mobile phone or modem device. And the constituents of these groups can use their own mobile phones to communicate back.
Since Ken developed FrontlineSMS in 2005, nonprofits have downloaded the totally free — and easy to use — software almost 13,000 times, for use in a strikingly varied assortment of projects across the globe. The first independent news agency in Iraq, for instance, is using the software to text message updates to readers in eight different countries.
Other users have a more targeted focus. Some groups are using FrontlineSMS to share fair market prices with local farmers, information that can help these farmers spot — and avoid — commodity traders out to cheat them.
In Azerbaijan, FrontlineSMS has helped mobilize the youth vote in national elections. In Zimbabwe, the software is enabling groups to monitor human rights violations. One group serving overseas Filipino workers is using FrontlineSMS as an emergency help line. (See our case studies section for further examples of how FrontlineSMS is used across the world).
Ken has based the entire FrontlineSMS effort on basic open source principles. This allows any organisation working on grassroots social change to have "the ability to build on and take advantage of the code we've developed."
This devotion to the open source ethos goes beyond just working with software programmers. "We're committed," says Ken, "to involving even non-developers among our users in the ongoing improvement of FrontlineSMS."
Ken, an anthropologist by training, has lived and worked all around Africa since the early 1990s. A long-time computer coder, he first started thinking about connecting computers and mobile phones while working on a conservation project in South Africa.
In 2005, Ken raised a small amount of money, bought some equipment and cables, and sat down, over five summer weeks, to write the first FrontlineSMS software. That October, Ken released his new code over the Web.
"What's happened since," he says, "has been pretty amazing."
A number of groups and organisations, ranging from National Geographic to the MacArthur Foundation, have noted the wide and positive impact that has been made FrontlineSMS. Ken himself is hoping that his work will have an equally positive impact on the next generation of software developers.
"Stories like mine — developing FrontlineSMS with very limited resources over a five week period — can inspire younger developers," he points out. "They prove that anyone with an idea can make a real difference if they stick with it."
Ken is currently in Washington, D.C to receive this year's Pizzigati Prize in a presentation during the National Technology Network's 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference.
This year's Pizzigati Prize judging panel included three previous winners of the prize — Darius Jazayeri, Yaw Anokwa, and Barry Warsaw — and two veteran professionals who have each earned wide respect within the nonprofit computing world, Joseph Mouzon and Erika Bjune.
About The Pizzigati Prize
The Antonio Pizzigati Prize for Software in the Public Interest goes annually to an open source software developer who is adding significant value to the nonprofit sector and movements for social change.
The prize honors the brief life of Tony Pizzigati, an early advocate of open source computing. Born in 1971, Tony spent his college years at MIT, where he worked at the world-famous MIT Media Lab. Tony died in 1995, in an auto accident on his way to work in Silicon Valley.
To learn more about the prize and its judging criteria, visit www.pizzigatiprize.org.
Tides, the Pizzigati Prize selection process host, partners with philanthropists, foundations, activists, and organizations across the United States and around the globe to promote economic justice, robust democratic processes, and the opportunity to live in a healthy and sustainable environment where human rights are preserved and protected.
A nonprofit founded in 1976, Tides provides an array of services that amplify the efforts of forward-thinking individuals and organizations. For more information, visit www.tides.org.