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:
We've designed the first ever FrontlineSMS user survey to help us understand what happens after the software is downloaded from our website. Your responses will help us improve the software and make it easier to use, and will let us know how we can better help you incorporate SMS in your work.
Telling our story
The data will also show our donors and investors how FrontlineSMS is making a difference all over the world - enabling us to keep working and innovating and to keep offering the service for free. And even if you are not currently using the software your answers to the questions that still applicable will really help us.
Win a GSM modem*! And write a post for our blog for a chance to be on the National Geographic website!
As a way to show our appreciation, we are offering a couple of rewards for completing the survey:
First, you are invited to write about your project on the FrontlineSMS blog. Then, we're very excited to be able to select one project to profile in a forthcoming series of posts that FrontlineSMS is contributing to the National Geographic blog. The National Geographic website receives over ten million hits per month, with a broad international readership, so this is an opportunity to share your project with readers around the world! If you would like to participate, please be sure to use the space provided in the survey to tell us more about your project.
We are also happy to give away five GSM modems*. One lucky survey taker will be randomly selected to receive a free modem every week for the next five weeks!
Your stories are our bread and butter. Help us keep working.
We're always looking for suggestions, requests, feedback and contributions from you! Let us know if you have anything you'd like to see, or contribute: email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*A GSM modem is a device which plugs directly into your computer, which allows you to easily connect to a mobile network and send text messages. GSM modems are better suited for applications like FrontlineSMS, and are faster and more reliable than attaching a mobile phone.
A little Friday fun in a good cause - as our Ken blogged yesterday, we think the photos that spontaneously started coming in from FrontlineSMS users and friends are really moving and uplifting - and we want more of them. We think the world is ready for a FrontlineSMS video you can dance to - so we will be putting these pictures to music, as soon as we have enough of 'em.
So as Ken says:
If you want to join in the fun, send us photos of you, your family or friends doing the o/ and you could be a star in the first genuine FrontlineSMS video! Just email them to videopics [at] frontlinesms.com and we’ll do the rest. And if you want to take it a little further, how about trying some fun photos with theFrontlineSMS:Medic and FrontlineSMS:Credit logos? +/ and $/?
Take it out on the tiles with you this Friday night and get the indie disco, the tango class, or the upper circle doing it - whatever your thing is!
One of the things which inspires me most about FrontlineSMS is how it inspires and motivates other people. I've met students, developers, out-and-out techies, non-profits, academics, members of the media, graphics designers - even members of the public - all of whom seem to resonate with the history, objectives and DNA of what we're trying to do. If showing people what's possible is the only legacy we leave, I'm more than happy. But I sense it will be a little more than that. Last Friday I visited the London offices of Wieden+Kennedy - the incredibly talented people behind the o/ FrontlineSMS logo. I was expecting a sit-down meeting, a brief chat, a coffee and overview of where FrontlineSMS - and other kiwanja projects - were all heading. What I didn't expect was this.
Four young supercharged members of W+K's Platform initiative had spent the previous two-and-a-half days turning a decent-sized meeting room into a living and breathing FrontlineSMS/mobile/Africa/kiwanja nerve centre. The walls were plastered with stickies and posters and images of ideas and clever concepts, all themed around "Where could we take FrontlineSMS?".
After two of the most stimulating hours imaginable, I left a little shaken - in a good way. Feeling the excitement and passion of four incredible young individuals - Will, Yuki and Teemu (pictured, below, and Neslihan who joined us remotely) - who had put so much of their hearts and minds into this, I was reminded what an incredible initiative FrontlineSMS has become, and how blessed we are to continue to attract so many passionate and talented people to the cause.
The timing of last week's session was also perfect. In three days time we start work on an exciting new project - in partnership with Accenture and the GSM Association - and promotion, branding and marketing was the missing piece. Enter Will, Yuki, Teemu and Neslihan (and Lucy and Sam, who run the Platform initiative). Adding W+K to our impressive line-up of partners not only strengthens our capacity yet further, but reinforces our belief in the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to solving some of the trickier challenges of the social mobile world.
Will, Yuki, Teemu, Neslihan, Lucy, Sam - welcome aboard! o/
Some of the best ideas are so incredibly simple that, after-the-event, we're all left wondering why we never came up with them. When I first heard of The Million Dollar Homepage back in October 2005, that's precisely how I felt (like millions of others, no doubt). Alex Tew was a student trying to figure out how to pay his way through university. Short of money and short of socks, he scrawled "How can I become a millionaire?" on a notepad and, twenty minutes later, The Million Dollar Homepage was born. The concept was simple - create a website and charge people a dollar-a-pixel to place an image on a grid a thousand pixels wide by a thousand high. 'Selling' all million pixels - if he could pull it off - would net him a cool one million dollars.
Launched towards the end of August 2005 the idea was so novel, quirky and brilliant, the least I felt I could do was part with a little of my own hard-earned cash and buy up a few in a show of support. At that time the site was far from full, and it was still unclear whether or not all the space was going to sell. Today, the completed image is something of an internet icon.
Around the same time Alex was raking in the dollars, I was putting together the final touches of a little project of my own. Somewhere in those million pixels you'll find a couple of hundred dedicated to FrontlineSMS (no prizes, but see if you can spot them). Like Alex, I had no idea back then whether my idea was going to get any serious traction.
Looking back, neither of us needed worry.
Running social mobile tools through the global branding machine might not seem like an obvious thing to do, but done right it can lead to some surprising - and unexpected - results. This is our story.
"Branding was the last thing on our minds. It was October 2007 and we were knee-deep building out the alpha version of the revamped FrontlineSMS. I'd just taken a phone call from Wieden+Kennedy (W+K), a global branding giant with the likes of Nokia, Nike and Google on their books. Renny Gleeson - W+K's Creative Director - had stumbled into what we were doing via our Social Mobile Group and wanted to see if they could get involved. I'll never forget the first five words he said to me (they sadly can't be repeated here).
We were still evaluating tenders from a range of web design companies in the Bay Area, but Renny was insistent that the job of building the FrontlineSMS website and brand had their name written all over it. It turns out he was right.
I never expected in my wildest dreams to end up working with some of the most talented brand experts in their field. If we'd gone our own route then our logo would likely have ended up as a picture of a mobile phone with the words "FrontlineSMS" underneath (this accurately describes our first effort, although it did help as a starting point for the W+K team). Early ideas - straight off the bat - looked like this.
It was a fascinating and evolving process, and one which eventually lead to a short list of keywords which we felt best described what lay at the heart of the software. One stood out - one which not only happened to be central to the early FrontlineSMS thinking, but one which came through strongly time after time in email messages from the growing community of users. And that word?
Empowerment is hugely personal and emotive. It's also something often expressed physically, and how to graphically represent this 'physical expression of empowerment' became a key theme as the logo continued to evolve. The neat concept of a 'textable logo' was also beginning to emerge, something which was to later prove something of a masterstroke.
According to Kelly Wright, a member of the W+K team:
We collectively focused in on the 'textable logo' concept because it spoke to the FrontlineSMS technology, and being purely visual, could be language independent. The challenge then became how to convey 'empowerment' through this pared down form
The 'o/' form had history, as Renny learned when he first shot the concept through to me on Skype. Check it out for yourself - it's a Skype emoticon shortcut, and when we saw what it generated, we were both sold on the unexpected - but hilarious - additional layer of meaning.
Renny had this to say about the overall design experience:
Ken built FrontlineSMS out of love, faith in human potential, and an inspired application of mobile technology. And you can feel it when you talk and work with him. At W+K, while we have the privilege to work day in and day out on some pretty impressive brands, the chance to help craft the visual language and web experience for Ken's creation was uplifting. From our first conversation with Ken, W+K has felt like a part of the extended FrontlineSMS family
And talking of family, something else very interesting has been happening. Something quite unexpected.
Today, as the FrontlineSMS software finds its way into more and more pairs of hands - currently 2,452 and counting - users have started sending in pictures of themselves, their teams and their community members replicating the FrontlineSMS logo, just like the ones above. I'm not quite sure what this means, but perhaps it's yet another sign that we've been able to take engagement and ownership to an entirely new level.
Branding social mobile tools is a relatively new concept - there is no manual, after all. Many people are still learning on their feet - us included - and what has happened here is just one of the many reasons why we, and others, are finding this space so exciting to work in."
Filmed at the Africa Gathering event in London last Saturday, this short interview with Jonathan Marks covers the history, thinking and use of FrontlineSMS, and contains some priceless footage of over 100 Africa Gathering attendees doing an impression of the FrontlineSMS logo.
(Tip: Turn HD off if the video is slow to play). Thanks to Ed and the rest of the team for organising such a great event, and to Jonathan Marks for conducting the interview.
@jack - inventor, Founder and Chairman of Twitter - meets up with @kiwanja - developer of FrontlineSMS - at the "Symposium on Technologies for Social Action" (e-STAS) conference in Malaga last week, where they both spoke about elements of citizen empowerment.
In their quest for globally-available, affordable (free!) text messaging, the Twitter folk are not alone, but unlike their non-profit counterparts Twitter are beginning to win the battle of nerves with the operators (expect to see free messaging slowly come back over the coming year). NGOs the world over can only dream of having this kind of clout, although it was interesting comparing the Twitter experience with that faced by FrontlineSMS users and the wider NGO community.
It'll be interesting to see where the Twitter Foundation might go with this, if and when we ever see one.
I don't usually work on planes, even eleven hour transatlantic flights. But this time I thought I'd give it a go - maybe do something a little bit more interesting than reading reports or doing email. So I plumped for this. I've wondered for a while what the FrontlineSMS footprint is, you know, where it's been used since the launch just over two years ago. So I did the grunt work on the plane and have just thrown it onto a map. And here it is.
The totals are quite impressive. It turns out that FrontlineSMS is being used in 41 different countries, and in some cases by more than one NGO in that country. I counted over 60 uses of the software, too. From helping blood donor clinics and human rights workers to promoting government accountability, keeping medical students informed about education options, providing security alerts to field workers, the capture and exchange of vegetable (and coffee) price information, the distribution of weather forecasts, the co-ordination of healthcare workers, the organising of political demonstrations, the carrying out of surveys and the reporting and monitoring of disease outbreaks. Oh, and election monitoring, of course. There are many more. I knew the tool was flexible but, for the first time having this information available has been a real eye-opener.
The latest version of FrontlineSMS is being developed as we speak, with work on a new website underway. We have a fantastic product, a great vibe in the non-profit world, increasing publicity and a great donor in the MacArthur Foundation. There are also plans afoot for an exciting global launch at a major GSM Association event in Cannes next May. Momentum is at an all-time high, and proposals for the next phase of development, starting mid-2008, are already out.
From nothing, apparently, comes something...