RapidSMS -- A Review

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Sep 29, 2008

In our occasional mobile tool reviews, we are featuring this week two reviews of similar mobile applications that provide bulk messaging focused on NGO needs.  Today's review is of RapidSMS, an open source enterprise level bulk messaging application developed by UNICEF.  Later this week we'll be reviewing FrontlineSMS, the much-touted grassroots bulk messaging desktop application. 

Matt Berg from the Millennium Villages Project will feature RapidSMS at MobileActive08. He has, as part of his work, tested RapidSMS extensively and has written this review for us. 

The upshot:

RapidSMSis a tool that allows for mobile data collection and bulk SMS messaging. User can collect both quantitative and qualitative data through SMS forms. RapidSMS also features bulk SMS messaging functionality similar to what you would find in desktop SMS tools like FrontlineSMS. RapidSMS is a relatively new project coming out of the UNICEF Innovations and Development team of the Youth Section in New York.

RapidSMS requires strong technical skills to install and configure. For the organizations that are able to impliment it, RapidSMS offers many advantages over a desktop system.

First, since it is web-based, multiple users are able to access the system remotely at the same time. RapidSMS is also an "open" platform based on a popular programming framework which should appeal to organizations with technical staff who want to customize or integrate the tool into their current web systems.

It has two major areas of functionality:

  • Communications: SMS provides a cost effective and reliable means to communicate with our project teams in the field and relay important messages and public service announcements to key community stakeholders in the sites. The ability to communicate to a large number of recipients via SMS is not only more cost effective then voice but a lot less time consuming. SMS delivery is also extremely reliable unlike voice calls which cannot be received when you are out of network or battery is dead. While required literacy is one of the major disadvantages of SMS communication, SMS messages can be stored for easy information retrival but also helps ensure that subsequent sharing of information contained in the SMS is accurate.
  • Data Collection: One of the key features of RapidSMS over FrontlineSMS is its abililty to create basic SMS forms for data collection. While SMS forms have some inherent flaws (training will likely be required to help ensure proper data entry), the ability to use any standard phone for data collection and not rely on java forms has tremendous benefits. Besides a greatly expanded potential user base, SMS forms can be quickly created to deal with data collection needs as they arise even if it is a one time event. Used properly, RapidSMS is simple enough to be an "excel" like application that allows the user to focus on and end application and not technical design.

The full review is here. Thank you, Matt Berg from the Millennium Villages Project. 

Photo courtesy Sean Blaschke




SMS vs XML ("Java") forms

Great review of a very, very useful product. Just wanted to make one point. In a passage about the advantages of SMS forms vs "Java" forms (by which I think Matt means xml forms displayed in a Java program on the phone), Matt suggests that "SMS forms can be quickly created to deal with data collection needs as they arise even if it is a one time event."

While it is obviously useful to create forms quickly as events arise, that is not a distinguishing point between Java-based programs and programs that use SMS. Our free EpiSurveyor software (www.episurveyor.org) enables the average user to create forms and deploy them worldwide to phones in literally minutes, at no cost except the airtime costs (which is much cheaper, per unit of data transmitted, than SMS). And EpiSurveyor does not require consultants or programmers or other experts to set up the system: if you went to www.episurveyor.org after reading this, you could have someone in Tanzania or Thailand entering data into your form on a phone an hour from now. Seriously.

EpiSurveyor also has many other advantages, including skip logic, data quality controls, instant analysis, etc, and we'll soon be adding automated reporting, mapping and geo-analysis.

dear genersiddayao

Dear genersiddayao,
We're developing just this system at Cell Alert (www.cellalert.org). Please read our proposal here: http://www.netsquared.org/projects/frontlinesms-alerts

That should give you some ideas of how this can be accomplished using our upcoming FrontlineSMS/CellAlert software module.

For SMS code-triggered responses, check out the FrontlineSMS's two-way text-response features. You can read a bit more about them here:

Israel Kloss
Founder, Cell Alert
israel at cellalert dot org

Information on demand - SMS

can anybody help me where to start in developing Information On Demand (IOD) using sms? I want to develop one but i have no idea on where to start. This has been a new technology in a third world country like philippines. I have the experience of programming but i cant find the ways on how to start it. I hope guys you could help me with this.

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