Comparing Mobile Data Collection Tools

Posted by NateBarthel on Nov 04, 2010

There are a myriad of mobile data collection tools, and varied documentation describing what they do, what they require, and how they work. Given these choices, choosing a particular system can be a daunting task.  

We recognize this challenge and have developed a DRAFT matrix assessing ten different mobile data collection technologies against a core set of metrics. It does not seek to emphasis one over the other, rather is meant to aid you in determining which is best for your project.  Please take a look at this draft and annotate and edit, as appropriate. Given the quick changes in this area, this is a work in progress.

Thank you to my colleague at, Mohini Bhavsar, whoe helped compile the data, and the many people who made themselves available to vet the data in the spreadsheet.


The matrix is aimed at program managers, or those in similar roles, whose responsibility it is to choose the best mobile data collection technology for their project.  

How to use it

This matrix can be used to help the decision making process by helping to narrow the list of potential candidates.  For example, if you need to collect rich data, you could exclude those technologies which use only SMS.  Likewise, if you need a solution that is ‘ready to go’ you might decide to avoid those that require more upfront custom development.  

Why did we choose these particular categories?

The categories featured here were determined by reviewing work done by the WC3 and earlier efforts by, and validated through interviews with experts in mobile data collection. This does not aim for complete coverage of every possible metric, rather it focuses on those categories which are of greatest importance to the decision maker. We also purposefully excluded those categories which are highly subjective, notably usability, as this would require an entirely different means of assessment.

Why these software products?  

The software products featured were selected based on three basic reasons: that they are mobile data collection technologies, that they have been implemented in developing countries, and that they are generally deployable on standard wireless network configurations. These products represent a wide variety of architectures and capabilities, and represent both open source and proprietary technologies.

You might also want to review this How-To, Mobile Phones for Data Collection.

Nate Barthel is a consultant to

Draft Matrix

How can we start using and learning how to use the draft matrix? I would love to gather data about this for certain target markets.

your question

Hi, Oratech - not sure what you mean - data is yours for the taking :) (according to our CC license terms). Feel free to use as you see fit!

great start; needs more active editing

Hi Nate,

Congratulations for tackling this, as this kind of comparison is long overdue and will be of great help to the community.  I will say -- and as the developer of EpiSurveyor I am of course biased -- that I think your matrix may, perhaps in the name of impartiality, obscure some some very important distinctions between these systems, particularly with regard to costs and difficulty and scale. 

For example, although you point out that for all of these items, "additional costs" may include computers (unsurprising since these are all software programs), I don't feel you've drawn a distinction very well between software like RapidSMS, which may be excellent but which requires a squad of programmers and server technicians to implement, and FrontlineSMS, which does many of the same things without the need for the programmers and the technicians.  Since the cost of programmers and technicians can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, I think it's worth making this a bit more clear to the readers.  

Likewise, your matrix makes it look like all these programs have some use cases, and you list a few for each -- but the reader would have no way of realizing that EpiSurveyor ( has much more than just a few use cases: we have literally thousands of independent users in hundreds of countries around the globe who have uploaded hundreds of thousands of completed forms -- a claim that cannot be made by any other software represented on your matrix.

And the reason that we have so many users, which is also relevant but which doesn't really jump out in the matrix, is that anyone can begin using EpiSurveyor in minutes without any programming: one can literally log in for the first time and begin collecting data on mobile phones, for free, in minutes or hours.

I think the users would like experts like the MobileActive team to lay out these issues a bit more clearly: there is obviously quite a bit of difference between the cost of having to buy a computer for $500 and the cost of having to hire a programmer (or three) for $50,000 apiece -- or, as in the case of Voxiva, millions of dollars of cost per implementation (which you fail to note at all).

Likewise, quite a bit of difference between software that, like Gmail or EpiSurveyor, one can begin using today and software that will require hundreds of thousands of dollars and 6 months of meetings, and a signed MOU.


We've also tried our hand at creating a matrix, and it would be great to compare and contrast the two, and perhaps to find a way to merge them. Here is our attempt:


I hope, and am sure, that you will continue to improve the matrix.  Again, thanks for taking the first steps.

Joel Selanikio, MD


Great job!

Hi Nate,

really exhaustive resource and a great insight into products available on the market. Makes it easy to pick one based on the details listed.

We've listed our web based data collection tool on Mobile Active a few months ago as well. We are looking to sponsor a non-profit project now if you could assist us with the search.

Also, we'd be happy to create a detailed listing for the Comparison Matrix of Tools tab for our product in order to make it available to potential non-profits looking for a tool.


matrix creation tool

Hello Nate,

Maybe you could be interested by

This new platform enables users to group & organize various information, building nice comparisons easily in any area.
Here is a video:

The objective is to offer the “wikipedia of comparisons” enabling any user to create & update easily, in a collaborative way any kind of interactive comparison.
It is a community where members can vote, rate content, save favorites, embed tables on their own blog/website or share comparisons on social networks.
Data are available under open licences, anyone can modify or suggest modifications of existing data.

Here is a tutorial to create comparison:


Re: Hi This is really a nice

Thank you and we certainly do hope that this will be a useful tool.  To answer your questions, the data was collected via online research and interviews with developers and implementers.  Regarding FrontlineSMS I have personally not deployed this in a linux environment but the FrontlineSMS community forum does address issues installing under Ubuntu.

I hope this helps.  Given the variablity of Linux distros I can certainly understand it not working 'out-of-the-box'.  If you continue to have trouble please repost and perhaps we can put you in touch with someone who can help. 


Nate Barthel



Hi   This is really a nice



This is really a nice work for helping researchers  all around the world.  I am working on similar thing, I just want to ask how you collected these data, I mean did you really deployed the system or just read about them on the internet.  Because in the case of  frontlineSMS,    when I deployed it on the windows it worked fine but it does not work in linux.  


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