Using RSS to SMS for rapid notification of emerging information

Posted by on May 10, 2006

I have a robot that constantly looks for select information online about my campaign. It sends me an SMS if and when it finds what I need.

The world today is clearly threatened by information overload, but that's far from the worst problem we face. The right tools for dealing with the barrage of information available can help us deal with the long list of other, more frightening problems facing humanity. 

One new class of tools will do just that - by delivering new items in any RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed to your mobile device by SMS or to your IM client. (If RSS is new to you, there are intro links at the end of this post.)

What does that mean? It means that you can receive automatic near-real-time notification on your phone of, for example, any new internet search results for a query you've set up, any press releases or media statements from corporate or government adversaries or allies, or notification of any other new information that you've set one of these tools to be constantly looking for. Look once and subscribe.  This does not require computer programming skills; it's only as new as e-mail was a decade ago.

I use this type of service to receive near immediate notification whenever select tech vendors post news about a new product, service or acquisition. Thus I'm often the first person online to report on that news on the blog I write about the web tools industry. I use the same type of system to notify me whenever a large conversation is emerging online regarding an issue of interest to one of my nonprofit consulting clients.

You might want to be amongst the first movers if a key politician or corporate executive schedules a press conference. If you are having a press conference yourself about a controversial topic, you may want to be notified up to the last minute before speaking in the event that an adversary puts out a press release of their own. You may want to be instantly appraised of an impending announcement that will be posted online; no need to look for it every few minutes, just set your RSS to SMS/IM system to notify you when it's available and get back to work. 

You might use an RSS to SMS system to get notification in the event that the name of your organization and the words "was arrested" or "has been arrested" appear on any news sites, news wires or blogs.

The basic idea is persistent, automated search, filtering and fast delivery. This will work even better if combined with other services for memetracking, threshold setting and other new points of leverage that are consistently emerging in the fast-paced world of web innovation.

The possibilities are nearly endless and the potential here is important enough to make slow adoption by agents of social change a serious strategic disadvantage. Corporate PR agents are adopting this type and pace of information use and political organizers need to as well.

The leading RSS to SMS/IM services so far are:

  • Rasasa 
    The most sophisticated so far, but based in the Netherlands so my US Verizon phone can't get SMS from this service.

  • Zaptxt 
    Also good, includes keyword filters, OPML support for working with multiple RSS feeds at once. Limited flexibility and IM support (Jabber and GTalk IM only) to date.

    Only IM, no SMS, but works with most IM clients. Quite reliable.


If RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is new to you, see the following links for introductory information:

My text introduction to RSS

A number of good short videos on using RSS

A long post with details about how I teach people to use RSS

I hope that these tools prove useful in your mobile-enabled activism. Goodness knows the world is in bad enough shape that rapid, filtered and automated information delivery seems like a powerful avenue to explore.

Marshall Kirkpatrick blogs about new web tools for social change at, about Web 2.0 industry news at AOL's Social Software Weblog and interviews innovators in the nonprofit and corporate technology sectors for NetSquared.  An interview with MobileActive's Katrin Verclas at NetSquared will be next in the interview series.

another RSS to SMS service: Feedbeep

You forgot what might be the leading RSS to SMS service to date:

SMS RSS feed in switzerland

HandySpruche (Switzerland) offers an RSS feed which is transformed into SMS messages. at their /rss.aspx page,

Blog 2 SMS soon in Switzerland too

Kaywa will soon offer something similar. Xou can subscribe to SMS alerts from every Kaywa blog;) ** Disclaimer: I am working at Kaywa **

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