News and information through SMS!

I was pleasantly surprised to discover the launch of a website that delivers news headlines through SMS for Sri Lankan mobile subcribers. Following in the footsteps of websites such as Rasasa, though nowhere near the level of services and sophistication, JasmineNews is nevertheless an interesting venture that seeks to disseminate news and information through SMS.

Speaking to its founder over the telephone today, I discovered that JasmineNews is still very small – though it has big plans for future expansion. I was dissapointed to hear that their business model does not allow them, for the moment, to think of using their website as a means through which the news that they send out to mobiles can be displayed online, but I was told that shoudl their subscription model work, with more users signing on, it could subsidise the costs of maintaining the news website.

With extremely low costs of maintaining such a site once the basic technical groundwork and UI is in place (take for instance Digg) I fail to recognise this as a valid argument against promoting their websites as a place where one can read online the news delivered via SMS – and more importantly, access archives. But I don’t want to sound too harsh – JasmineNews is new and for its innovative nature, worthy of support.

I was particularly impressed by a well thought out ethics section, though there seems to be a disconnect between Point 10 and the lack of website development as noted above.

“10) Source all news clearly and provide names of sources quoted on the JNW web site. Verify all headlines from at least 3 different sources.”

A more serious flaw is to be found in their Terms and Conditions page:

1) Jasmine Newswires (Pvt) Ltd text news cannot be forwarded to third parties and is grounds for termination of your service without liability to Jasmine Newswires.

I’ve given this some thought, but know of no conceivable manner in which JasmineNews is going to prevent those who receive an SMS from them from forwarding it to others. My experience of SMS messages in response to critical events, such as a suicide bomb attack, is that groups forward messages to each other. Once sent out, a message is in the public domain, and there is no way to stop it.

In fact, this is JasmineNews’ central caveat – if one looks at it from a profit making venture. Their subscription model:

Subscription rate for Sri Lankan network numbers:
For 1 subscriber for 1 month Rs600
For 1 subscriber for 3 months Rs600 per month (Rs1800)
For 1 subscriber for more than 3 months Rs600 per month

For 5 subscribers for 1 month Rs550 per person (Rs2750)
For 5 subscribers for more than 3 months Rs500 per person per month.
For 10 subscribers for 1 month Rs500 per person (Rs5000).
For 10 subscribers for more than 3 months Rs450 per person per month

almost totally breaks down without the support of consciencious consumers – in other words, why go for a group subscription when I can go for a single user subscription and forward the messages to my mates?

This aside, in terms of aspirations, the fact that JasmineNews wants to become a tri-lingual service, as noted in here, is what will really make it take-off. A future business model may be to link up with some bloggers in Sri Lanka so that a Jasmine-This! plug-in for Firefox can be developed that allows someone to point to news-worthy issues in much the same manner as plug-ins for

I strongly suspect that if JasmineNews is successful, they will be bought over by a mobile telecoms provider in around 1 – 2 years time. JNW started reporting news in April 2006 and is accredited with the Information Department of Sri Lanka.

One (annoying) anomaly in the website as it stands today – with the JasmineNews website loaded on Firefox and running OS X, everything in Firefox slows down to a crawl. Close the tab, or window, with JasmineNews loaded, and everything is up to speed again. Haven’t verified this fully, but may be a coding issue that I hope JasmineNews gets looked at and fixed soon.

I’m not a subscriber yet, but hope to be soon and will post my experience with the service in a later post.

7 thoughts on “News and information through SMS!

  1. i would look forward to a reversal as well, where average users can submit their own stories via SMS and it being displayed online. including text, and media elements delivered via SMS and MMS,

    ‘Janatha-reporters’ or am i sounding too far fetched and silly?

  2. About a month back I made a blog entry on JNW and how it will hopefully revolutionize Sri Lankan news. I’ve known about it since its inception and it is evident that the network is becoming bigger and the newswire, more efficient. “Confirmed News First” is a concept we can all get used to 🙂

  3. I know quite a few people who get JasmineNews updates, but few of them actually subscribe. The central caveat of the economic model of subscription for an SMS based news service that I identified in my post above seems to hold true – you can easily forward a message you receive to as many people as you want.

    On the other hand, I’d love to see something along the lines of what was demonstrated at Strong Angel III in using SMS and mobile phones in general to gather news from communities – see some of the posts here

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