Text messaging - the real revolution in telecommunications?

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While we may not be ready to announce victory in the digital war on poverty, there are definitely battles that are being won. And the most recent battle is that over text messaging. Cell phones have spread like wildfire across Africa and many other parts of the world. But these are basic handsets - no internet access, no videos, no maps. These phones do, however, have short message service (SMS), aka text messaging. And while the capacity to send 160 characters by phone may not be a revolution, it is definitely having a positive impact.

Jim Witkin, writing at Triple Pundit, discusses one of the most interesting efforts to apply this technology to the developing world (Hat tip: Giulio Quaggiotto). Kiwanja.net, a non-profit, has developed a program called FrontlineSMS that allows NGOs to communicate with their field workers through text messaging. As Witkin explains:

...the [NGO] administrator can compose a message once in FrontlineSMS and send it simultaneously to hundreds of volunteers. The program has been used by NGOs in over forty countries for a wide range of activities including blood donor recruitment, assisting human rights and conservation workers, election monitoring, and coordinating healthcare workers. 

Ken Banks, founder of kiwanja.net, argues that the simplicity and versatility of the FrontlineSMS application has made it a success. And it is true that the application has proven quite versatile. A post on kiwanja.net's blog dated August 10 contained this graphic showing the different uses to which FrontlineSMS is put:


Clearly, it is useful for NGOs pursuing all kinds of goals. The best part, though, is that this type of technology won't prove useful just for NGOs. As advances like mobile banking make clear, this type of technology will facilitate a myriad of Bottom of the Pyramid for-profit strategies.


Ryan Hahn

Operations Officer

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