Posts by Justin Oberman

TXT4CASH: Fundraising Comes to Your Phone

March 30, 2006

Justin Oberman

After sitting through several "mobile web" dominated panels at SXSW, where the topic of text messaging and other interesting traits of the mobile medium never came to surface, it was a "Sweet Relief" to meet up with Scott Dudelson. The founder of Music For Charity Productions, the 26-year-old Dudelson was at the Austin music, arts and technology festival promoting an SMS fundraising effort for Sweet Relief, a non-for-profit organization that provides financial aid for artists who are older, unable to work and cannot pay for medical and or other needs. Dudelson was not there for the Interactive part of the SXSW festival, his badge was exclusively for Music. But his text messaging, fundraising and music mashup was right on the cusp of both worlds and was one of the most interesting and practical integration of the mobile medium into different media that I saw at SXSW.


Besides promoting the service during the Music panel discussions and exclusive interviews, Dudelson and his "foot-soldiers" hit the SXSW music scene handing out flyers (pictured above) and chatting up with music fans about the Sweet Relief charity and how to contribute to it from their mobile phones.

Dudelson comes to the geek world of mobile technology with the impressive experience of a self-starter music producer / promoter. With dreams of becoming the next Bill Graham, Scott starting promoting bands such as Air Supply, Foreigner, the Doobie Brothers at a local club and eventually hooked up with LAmusicscene.com and ended up running that with the founder creating various different concert events for independent musicians. With a plethora of contacts from music journalism, PR work and promoting concerts in clubs, Dudelson decided to combine his love for music and altruism to create Music For Charity Productions and help the world one note at a time.

After doing a few Sweet Relief charity concerts with the likes of John Meyer, Carolyn Dawn Johson as well as several other tribute events, Dudelson was already looking for more new and interesting ways to help raise money for charities via his passion for music when his father, a major film producer, encouraged him to attend an iHollywood forum in August 2005. Dudelson was deeply impressed by the world of digital convergences and began the path toward combining his outer rockstar with his inner geek.

Eventually, he found himself at a CTIA Wireless event in San Francisco where, it just so happened, several cellphone carriers were demonstrating Premium SMS (PSMS) technologies by holding live SMS "4CARE" and "2HELP" fundraisers for the victims of Katrina and the Tsunami. Customers of participating carriers could send a text message to the shortcode "2HELP" (24357) containing the keyword "Help" to make a tax deductible donation to the American Red Cross' relief efforts. Donations appeared on customers' monthly bills or were debited from prepaid account balances. The campaign closed in late October 2005.

When Dudelson saw this it immediately clicked. "It was one of the greatest fundraising means I have ever seen," Scott exclaimed. "It was intuitive and just made a whole lot of sense." After a brief study period in which he learned what the Europeans and Australians are doing with SMS, he began talking with Short Code providers here in the United States. A Short Code is a special telephone number, shorter than a full telephone number, that is specifically designed to address SMS and MMS messages from mobile phones.

It was through the Mobile Marketing Association that Dudelson teamed up with Mobile Accord, a mobile marketing solutions provider based out of Denver that specializes in SMS end-to-end billing platforms for non-profits and the political arena in general. "What we wanted to do," says Mobile Accord COO and co-founder Dan Weaver, "is take what is happening in other countries in terms of mobile technology outside of entertainment and bring it to the United States."

Weaver and his partner James Eberhard (the founder of the extremely successful American ring-tone company 9 Squared) saw that right now in the United States the only strong mobile options are entertainment-based applications. What Mobile Accord does is take those models and turn them into practical applications for people or organizations to use. Both Weaver and Eberhard conceptualized Mobile Accord around these principles in order to help nonprofits and political, schools, hospitals, raise funds by harnessing the power of the mobile medium. "The phone is not only a great communications tool," Weaver points out, "it can also be a great transactional vehicle."

The relationship has been nothing but fruitful. "What Mobile Accord is doing," Dudelson points out, "their back-end technology and all that they stand for, is exactly what I envisioned doing when I saw the Katrina SMS relief thing at CTIA... I was very lucky to hook up with them."

An intermediary like Mobile Accord provides instant connectivity to all major US wireless carriers. "We have built and maintain a robust messaging platform that gives organizations access to ready-to-launch applications, meaning that there is no technical engineering required by our clients," Weaver tells me. Otherwise, trying to access the carrier networks directly is extremely expensive both in deal making as well as technical back ends builds. "If one went directly to the carriers," Weaver points out, "they would have to build and maintain their own messaging platform and all of the applications that use the platform." The carriers do not offer the kind of ready-made systems made possible by a company such as Mobile Accord. All the carriers offer, is the pipe which, Weaver reminds me, is not cheap to begin with.

So simply put, intermediaries like Mobile Accord provide solutions that the carriers do not. They provide turnkey access to all the carriers pipes as well as the tools necessary to use those pipes effectively. They also act like a broker between you and the carrier (which is beneficial because of their already established relations) handling such issues as the carrier approval process for each campaign as well as short code registration , billing aggregation and basic reporting tools.

The easiest way to raise money over the mobile phone is by means of Premium SMS (PSMS). About 18 months ago the carriers launched a service that allowed 3rd party vendors to sell mobile services and charge consumers through their phone bill. Essentially this allows you to buy a service via SMS and have it charged to your phone bill. Now, the carriers launched this service mainly to facilitate entertainment-based programming. But the gentlemen over at Mobile Accord and Music for Charity Productions saw an even more powerful tool for PSMS in its ability to get people who are more and more mobile to interact with a cause. Its simple. You don't have to get people to right a check, receive annoying phone calls or sign up on a website. Just have them send a keyword like "PDF" via text message to a short code like, for example, DONATE (366283) and your donation for whatever amount will be on your next phone bill. All that is needed is a call to action and perhaps a mass gathering of people and you got your self a mobile fundraising campaign.

Just look at U2'S "One" campaign. During concerts, Bono told fans to take out their cell phones and text their support for OXFAM to a short code which then got flashed up on a big screen above the stage. Thousands did as Bono told. Now imagine if Bono told his fans to do the same thing only this time he also told them that they would be donating 99 cents or $4.99 to this or that charity. This is Dudelson's dream usage. SXSW Txt for Sweet Relief fundraisers was Dudelson's first mobile campaign, but it's his first of many as he wants to mashup musicians with nonprofits via the mobile medium. "Everyone needs a Short Code," he points out.

It's been a week now since sending the the keyword "Heal" to 50555 has been activated. Sending the keyword to the Short Code gives $4.99 in net proceeds to the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund. The turnout thus far has been pretty modest but it still has a long way to go. The point of this particular campaign (which will also extend into CTIA) is more to bring the musical as well as the wireless space up to speed on the huge benefits this kind of usage the mobile medium can have.

From April 28th till July 28th Music For Charity Productions is throwing Real Tones into the mix. Real Tones, also known as "True Tones," are essentially the industry term for ring-tones that are "original recordings" of songs. By making an SMS donation to the Sweet Relief short code you will receive exclusive Real Tones by artists such as Tegan and Sara, Jars of Clay, Pearl Jam. A new band called OK Go is even releasing a new single as a charity ringtone. All sent directly to your phone via SMS. OK Go also played at SXSW and its lead singer was on a panel called "10 Things You Can Do To Change The World" in which he spoke about the Sweet Relief SMS Campaign. The Sweet Relief campaign will also be hitting up myspace, where they will be streaming some of the Real Tones on the relevant bands' myspace pages.

With his first mobile campaign Dudelson has also come to realize how hard it is to enter the mobile marketing space at the present moment, especially on a charity and nonprofit level. For one thing, maintaining a short code is very expensive with CTIA (the Wireless Governing Body) charging 500 dollars a month for a basic Short Code and an average of $1000 for a vanity Short Code like Google's "GOOGL" (46675).

There is also a limit as to how much the carriers will let a group raise via Premium SMS (PSMS) which is currently capped at $10 per donor. This is simply because the usual price for purchasing mobile content over a phone never tops more than $10 and the carriers do not want to get involved with managing the risks involved in collecting large sums of money. There is also a one to two month waiting period before an organization using PSMS ever sees any of the money it raised. This is, again, because the carriers want to make sure their subscriber pays their bill before they transfer the donated funds.

And while Dudelson was not allowed to tell me how much of a cut the carriers take from the overall contribution, he does point out that the deals with carriers for nonprofit fundraising has to change and become more streamlined to make it more viable. On average the carriers take anywhere from 40-50 percent of the proceeds. This, again is mainly because the service was set up for retail purposes. But companies like Mobile Accord are actively working organizations and governing bodies in the wireless industry to get the carriers to significantly cut their revenue share on charitable donations. Industry insiders have told me that regulations are being worked on to make it more affordable for these types of organizations to take advantage of the mobile space.

Once it's more viable, Dudelson points out, he sees no reason why tens of millions of dollars should not be raised through SMS. "It's one of the easiest and most ubiquitous ways of fundraising I have ever seen," Dudelson points out, "especially in a place where you have a captive audience and a star like Avril Lavigne telling people to take out their phones and text the word "donate" to a short code or having signage all over the place telling people about this new, cool mobile way to support X institution."

And it's not like the carriers lose money on this either. "Lets say the carriers drop their cut to 15 percent," Dudelson tells me. "Why wouldn't a nonprofit or fundraiser want to be involved?" Fundraising by SMS would also get people used to text messaging if they are not already, he notes, adding that the carriers can only make more money by lowering their cut to these types of organizations. "Its a fair balance," Dudelson points out, "everyone makes there money and everyone does good for the world."

Sweet Relief is establishing their mobile brand early during a period in which "cause marketing" in the mobile / SMS space is just beginning to explode. With possible regulations coming into effect that make it more affordable for non-profits and campaigns to enter the arena this is just the beginning. Combine a mass gathering of people, a celebrity and fundraising and there may just be a real golden opportunity hidden in the relationship between music, politics and technology that can be unlocked via the mobile medium.

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Mobile Politics USA: Stuck in First Gear

January 30, 2006

Justin Oberman

At the (PFAW)'s Save the Court the website there is an option that allows you to "get Mobile Text Alerts" to help block Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court. The corresponding web page asks you to join "The PFAW's Mass Immediate Response Team (MIRT) which allows supporters to turn their cellphones into an activist tool by signing up to receive important information and calls for action concerning Alito's nomination via text message the very second it's needed. People who sign up for PFAW's Mass Immediate Response receive updated important information, as well as their local Senator's number via text message, thus, as the website claims, "turning supporters cellphones into a real time tool for activism." On the sign-up page, PFAW boasts:

Our Massive Immediate Response program will allow us to slowly roll out calls to our targets, keeping a steady pressure over the course of a day or a week. The essence of MIR is speed: this new technology enables us to contact tens of thousands of cell phone users – and enables them to call the Senate – within seconds.

I signed up for the service two weeks ago and have not received a single text message since then. Nor is this service being pushed anywhere else on the PFAW website or on any other relevant sites. Which is odd when you consider just how successful MIR has been in the past, especially with PFAW related causes.

The technology behind the project was provided by POLITXT, the political division of the wireless entertainment company Rights-Group, which focuses exclusively on mobile marketing services for advocacy and political campaigns. It was originally used and developed by Rights Media back in 2001 for a promotional marketing campaign involving Samsung and Britney Spears. For about 20 dollars a month Britney Spears fans could sign up to receive text messages from the pop star. Embedded in each SMS was a link that led subscribers to a recorded message from Spears herself or a member of her "posse."

The beauty of this Wireless Fan Access (WFX) technology is that it can deliver customized messages to subscribers that are based on personal identifiers such as a user's address, birthday and personal tastes on a plethora of entertainment mediums such as music or film. In the case of Rights-Group's Britney Spears campaign, for example, users were able to receive a text message that led them to a recorded message of Spears reading their horoscopes.

WFX's creator (as well as President & CEO of Rights Group), Jed Alpert, was volunteering at a People for the American Way phone bank during the filibuster debate over judicial nominees last spring when he realized how his wireless technology could help solve some of the inefficiencies involved with voice P2P organizing over landlines.

"I instantly realized that we could use the same wireless technology, that worked so well on a commercial level, to mobilize thousands of activists instantly," Albert told me. Only this time, subscribers would have to be divided and sorted based on location and Congressional representation instead of how their birthday related to the movement of the planets. Embedded in each text message is the telephone number of the subscriber's Senator in Washington with a brief message as to what to call about. Using the WFX technology that Alpert created, PFAW has the ability to send out several thousand text-messages in one moment to the activist subscribers that sign on for the service.

The nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court was the first test of Alpert and PFAW's collaboration. "We got an opt-in rate that was 5 times better then any opt in rate our commercial entertainment campaign ever received," says Alpert. "Simply put, we got an opt-in rate of 27 percent, which is unbelievable." PFAW saw it as a huge success as well. According to PFAW's Online Product Manager Matt Pusateri "nearly 25,000 people signed up and used the tool before and during his nomination."

This proves something. Members of PFAW are generally not the teenagers that most people in the business of text messaging services cater to. Alpert never dreamed he would have such a high mobile technology success rate with middle aged users. It proves that people, of any age group, can adopt the psychology behind the mobile medium much faster than anticipated. "Once you get somebody to use text messaging -- that is, once you give them the incentive and motivation to use it for something they find extremely useful or important -- they will keep using it," says Alpert.

The proof is in the messaging. The political clients that Politxt has been pulling in have been the fastest growing part of Rights Media's business. Text messaging is easy to do, Alpert points out, and it fits most political groups' organizational needs in that it is extremely easy to integrate into already existing marketing and out-reach strategies. He explains:

We found that there is a place for this in campaigns right now. It's incredibly economical for contacting members or people who are interested in what you have to say and it's two way. In a call to action or for anything like that it's been extremely effective.

Recent clients have included the ACLU, the SEIU, national unions, advocacy organizations and of course political campaigns all of which have found Politxt's tools extremely simple and cost effective to integrate into their campaigns and objectives.

Oddly, PFAW hasn't promoted the Mass Immediate Response this time around as a major tool in its efforts to challenge Sam Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court. According to Pusateri "we had a link on the site but no big push for actvists to use it." When asked why the PFAW did not use a tool that seemed to have real value, Pusateri was unsure. "The numbers we received for Mass Immediate Response during the Roberts campaign were good," he admits, "but it still doesn't compare with the numbers we could reach by email and via other forms of online activism. But I don't know, it's a really good question."

PFAW's inaction is hard to understand. If 25,000 people signed up for Mass Immediate Response during their Roberts campaign, then that's still 25,000 people more people that they can reach via a different media. Plus, there are the things SMS can do that email and other online campaigns cannot. Unlike e-mail, SMS messages are much more likely to be read at any one time, since the majority of people have their mobile phones at arms reach 24 hours a day. And unlike a phone call, SMS messages are automatically stored where they can be re-read.

Also, it is important to remember that a mobile phone, unlike the PC, is a communication device from its origins. A person is thus more likely to use it as a communication device for social activism, such as immediately calling a relevant congressional office, when prompted to do so.

But political campaigns and organizations are typically cautious when it comes to adopting new technology. And unlike the Philippines, South Korea, and parts of Africa and the Middle East, where mobile phones have already taken center stage in numerous political battles, here in the United States mobile politics is still stuck in first gear. Sooner or later, a political group will come along and do with mobile technology the same thing the Dean campaign did with the Internet. Perhaps the PFAW did not think that this was the time. There will be a moment in American politics that will push the mobile medium into the limelight. When or what that will be I cannot say, but it will happen.

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FrontlineSMS: Finally, an SMS Hub in a Box

November 30, 2005

Justin Oberman

Are you with a non-profit, non-governmental organization, or political group that understands and takes advantage of the power of technological innovations? Well, since you are reading Personal Democracy Forum I think its safe to say that you are. I also think its safe to say that if you are one of the above then chances are you have been hearing a lot of buzz about the future possibilities that mobile technology can offer your organization, or politics in general for that matter. And you are not the only one.

A while back I did a story on use of SMS to facilitate petitions for the African Union’s Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa and GCAP SMS, a part of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty's call for debt cancellation, trade justice, better governance and increase aid for countries in Africa. While Fahamu was one of the first to crack the "phone-to-web interface," they are certainly not the only non-profit or NGO to understand the power and benefits of the mobile medium, especially in developing countries where mobile phones have a far greater reach than the internet.

Africa, for example, has one of the fastest mobile phone growth rates in world, in excess of 140% over the past 12 months. And for many on the continent, the mobile phone is becoming the only means of communication and possible information exchange. Patients receive reminders to take their medicine, saving time and money travelling to local clinics. Farmers receive details of market prices and demand for their products before heading off to market. National parks communicate details of dangerous animals, providing an early warning system to mitigate against human/wildlife conflict. Young people living in the slums of Nairobi receive texts alerting them to job opportunities in the city. Petitions are signed, protests are planed.

This makes a lot of sense especially when you consider that the reality for most African countries is that you can't always get a reliable internet connection, if at all. “If you are working in the middle of Zimbabwe or a Kenyan national park you cant just pop into an internet café," say Ken Banks, founder of ; a Cambridge-based ICT consultancy dedicated to making information technology more accessible to people, small organizations, charities and NGO's, "What’s needed is a simple mobile way to exchange messages."

Naturally, because of this, many NFP's and NGO's (both in Africa and around the world) have become interested in text messaging and the mobile medium because of its ability to provide the most poor and usually unconnected people in the world with cheap real-time information and communication. Most organizations that have worked with, built or implemented a non-web mobile solutions have, for the most part, been doing it for themselves. “Nobody was really thinking about the wider bigger picture,” says Banks. "These systems are owned and custom made by and for the organizations that use them. Most organizations don’t have the funds to do what these larger organizations have done,” Banks continues, “It is the mass market that's not really being serviced. There was nothing being developed that people could just pick off the shelf and take home." In a world where so many NGOs share the same goals, whether it be the alleviation of poverty or the conservation of wildlife, this situation represents duplicated effort and wasted resources.

So Banks developed , an affordable, standalone turn-key 'out-of-the-box' solution that allows small organizations, NGO's, charities, etc. the ability to access 'group' SMS technology anywhere a mobile network signal can be reached. No connection to the Internet necessary. "The design and development of the system is based on central focus of low cost, high impact interventions," says Banks. The software easily allows any organization to have their own SMS hub. They don't have to pay huge amounts for equipment, server space, , Internet or geek power. All that's needed is a PC (with USB), the software, a mobile-to-PC connection cord, a mobile phone or GSM modem (with ) and network coverage.

Banks, who has over 20 years of commercial IT experience, developed in order to make IT more accessible to developing countries, especially emerging technologies like SMS. Having worked for for a commercial mobile company in Cambridge, Banks already knew that people in developing countries have been using SMS for years. “Most of the people that have been looking at SMS have all been piling toward the internet way," Banks points out, "In America and Europe that’s no problem at all, but where I particularly have an interest, namely Africa, this doesn't help," says Banks. "I wasn't going to wait for the Internet to come to Africa."

FrontlineSMS is for organizations that want to take on small-to-medium scale SMS operations or who want to test the SMS medium on a smaller scale before embarking on larger projects. "Either way," Banks points out, "I hope that organizations don’t take it and put all their eggs in one basket. The idea is that they could take it and try it out on a small scale first to determine if this was something that could work for them.”

How it works
A phone with any network (with credit of course) is connected to a Windows PC with the software installed (either via downloaded from Internet or CD). The first time you do this, a few configurations in the software may be necessary to make the software and the phone read each other, but for the most part once it's done this step doesn't have to be repeated. Once the connection is made, and the software activated, you can begin sending or processing messages via theinterface. As far as the phone is concerned, it's sending out regular text messages. just cycles through what it has to send and receive based on which group you select and what type of messages you send. The phone just pumps them out and you get charged whatever it is your network provider charges you for usage.

While Banks had Africa in mind when he developed the software, the real advantage of FrontlineSMS is that it can be run anywhere. Because it depends on cellular networks instead of the Internet, will work in any country on any GSM network (it has not yet been tested on CDMA networks like Verizon but Banks thinks it should be no problem). If you are running an internationally mobile operation then multiple Sim Cards can be used (granted you would need an unlocked phone). Alternatively, if the SIM in use has roaming capability, the system will work abroad without any changes (although you will get charged whatever your network's SMS roaming charges are). It is also important to note that some providers charge more for international text messaging and may also only allow you to send text messages out to carriers that your network has partnered with in other countries. This may also apply in the reverse.

The effect that will have, therefore, greatly depends on the networks available in the country in which FrontlineSMS is being used. In the UK, where Banks lives, it’s a completely competitive market. "You could probably get a plan that allows you send a text message at 2 or 3 cents a text," Banks tells me. You can also get contracts that have 3 to 4 thousand free text messages a month. "Every country is different," Banks points out, "there are countries in the world where it wont be so easy to get cheap text messages and that will be an issue." But Banks hopes that mobile companies in these and other countries will look at the software favorably and begin issuing SIM cards with cheaper text-messages on them and/or flat-rate unlimited plans. But that is a tricky one to predict. A lot of carriers here in the United States, for example, have begun offering unlimited text-messaging in their business plans but none, that I know of, issue SMS-only Sim Cards or plans. "We are currently in contact with a number of network operators negotiating an 'SMS allowance', or SMS at a preferential rate, for FrontlineSMS users." Banks tells me. "The outcome of these discussions will be made available in the spring."

To receive and send messages the phone must be connected to the PC at all times. This is why Banks strongly suggests that the software only be used with a dedicated phone and Sim Card. The reason for this is that reads and deletes all messages on the target SIM, and if you used your personal handset then you would mix up any personal messages with FrontlineSMS-based ones. The idea of the system is that a dedicated phone is attached, and stays attached, meaning that it's available most of the time to process incoming (and outgoing) messages. Again, if you used a personal handset it will be unplugged from the system more times than it would be connected, and that would defeat the purpose of creating a de facto network. Messages may also be deleted by accident. Also, if the phone is in use while it is not connected to FrontlineSMS, it will pick up text-messages just as any other phones would. But if both the phone and PC are turned off for any amount of time, will pick up right where it left off once the system is up and running again.

While Banks believes that most phones should work, and is testing more phones all the time, phones that have been tested and approved for use are all GSM-based: Nokia 6100,6210, 6220, 6310/6310i and the Nokia 8910. If you prefer to use a dedicated GSMmodem then FrontlineSMS is fully compatible with the Wavecom Fastrack (serial version with a USB adapter). Most phones used in more developed nations (even 3rd generation) are tri-band and able to switch to GSM if necessary, so even older/newer phones could potentially work. Banks can say quite confidently that FrontlineSMS will NOT work on all handsets due to varying differences in how they interact at firmware level. He is not yet tested Windows Mobile or Palm based phones like the Treo 650.

“These issues are the nature of the beast," Banks points out, "and one of the disadvantages of not having it web-based. But the advantages of it not being web-based," Banks adds, "are far greater."

With some of the internet bulk messaging systems, there is an issue with how they handle replies. It's hard to manage and store them and often time requires extra 3rd party software. With FrontlineSMS' two-way portable communications capability, field-based NGOs can keep in touch with their fieldworkers from anywhere in the field, connect with people in need or reach new people in new and exciting ways. The system can be used for internal staff-based communications, or even to provide information to local communities via a sign-up process, or both. The software contains modules for setting up contacts and contact groups, as well as for sending out surveys and competitions. Automated messages can be generated to provide anything from on-demand information responses to general "thank you messages" for texting back answers to a survey. For example, a person can text in the word "Potato" and can have it immeditaly send back the price of potatoes for that day.

A custom database sits behind the mobile phone interface and automatically stores incoming and outgoing messages. The database keeps track of phone numbers and owners and allows messages to be sent to customised groups, tracking delivery and non-delivery. Survey results and other received messages can even be exported to excel for more intense analysis. So, for example, volunteers on a wild-life reserve or in urban communities can text in locations on where they saw a sick tiger or a pot-hole. The information will be stored on-the-go in real-time and, if necessary, send a response back to volunteer if further instructions are needed.

is for people that want to engage in the act of communicating in a mass way, but do not have the internet. For Banks, the potential is limitless. "It's highly functional and it can do many things… there really is no limit to what it can do which is the beauty of it.. so it will probably be used for things that I never dreamed of.”

The Future of FrontlineSMS
While the software is still only in its Beta trial mode infancy, Banks is already looking ahead and has begun developing a Version 2.0 which will include the additional functionality of a 'Telephone Console' (allowing the making and receiving of voice calls) as well as incorporating the ability to send picture and video messages.

The software, currently in beta, was first released in September but has recently been revamped. Since that time a number of national and international organizations have expressed interest and are now currently taking part in field trials as part of FrontlineSMS' free trial list program.

Some of these groups include the Technologies for Conservation and Development (t4cd) project which has been funded by the ,which will be looking to use it in Botswana as part of a Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) project, as well as several UK charities, groups and clubs.

Another application is under discussion is the use of FrontlineSMS to connect several healthcare 'hubs' across central Africa, allowing the sharing of information and providing improved communications between healthcare centres and professionals.

"The 'full' package which I aim to ultimately provide to NGOs," Banks tells me, "is the software on CD, a tested handset and a USB cable. Then they just stick in their SIM and off they go! Hopefully, there will be thousands of little frontlinesms systems running around all over the place doing all sorts of interesting things”

While the system has not yet been tested by any organization here in the United States, Banks has no doubts that it will work here without a problem. There's been particular interest in the past couple of weeks with FrontlineSMS's ability to assist with election monitoring. A leading US-based University is looking to check out the potential. Right now FrontlineSMS is in its trial run and it is free. Interested parties should directly to get started.

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