Ken Banks is the creator of FrontlineSMS, which is used in Ushahidi as a way to allow local phone numbers to be used for incoming messages. There’s a dependency that I’m not a big fan of though – you have to know how to download it, setup and activate it on your computer. That’s a huge barrier to entry.
As Ken just posted, we were roommates at last months Pop!Tech Fellows program. We’ve known each other for years, but this gave us a chance to talk at length around certain ideas that had been frittering about in the back of our heads. One such idea was how we could get rid of the need to own a computer to run FrontlineSMS (and from my perspective, sync with Ushahidi).
An independent mobile hub
If you have someone trying to run an operation in a developing nation, you don’t always have the luxury of having a computer and/or an internet connection. What if you could run this whole system locally from a microSD card, slotted into the side of a USB GSM modem?
“The software, drivers, configuration files and databases could all be held locally on the same device, and seamlessly connect with the GSM network through the ‘built-in’ modem. This would mean the user wouldn’t need to own a computer to use it, and it would allow them to temporarily turn any machine into a messaging hub by plugging the hybrid device into any computer – running Windows, Mac OSX or Linux – in an internet cafe or elsewhere.”
Doing this would effectively remove the computer (the largest expense) from the system entirely.
That’s a very powerful idea. By taking away something, you make it more powerful and more useful to the user. It means a lot for those who are trying to remain under the radar and it means they could do their messaging effectively, and with a lot less knowledge of the system, than is currently needed.
Building a prototype
Both Ken and I would like to hack a prototype of this together, so if there’s anyone interested in helping us do this, please let us know. If there are any MAKE fans out there, this might be right up your alley. We’ll both be in Nairobi from Dec 7-12, so if anyone there is game we’d love to do it then. This can also be done remotely too, so anyone want to work on getting FrontlineSMS native to a device such as this?
[Note: this type of device isn't just useful for activists at all, I can think of a wide variety of businesses and individuals who could use it, it's that in our context activism plays the largest role.]