News and information through SMS – A second look at JasmineNewswires in Sri Lanka

When I first reviewed JasmineNewswires a couple of months ago, they had just started their news through SMS service and I was not a subscriber. Soon after that post, I was offered a free subscription by JNW to evaluation further their novel system of breaking news and delivering information through SMS in Sri Lanka.

Firstly, the central questions I raised on their economic model remain – there is no impediment (save for one’s own conscience, and that’s a variable that’s hard to factor into business models!) against forwarding news alerts received through JNW. In fact, as their popularity has grown, a high profile incident – such as the assassination of a Tamil parliamentarian in Colombo recently, generated a flurry of SMS’s to my phone, all of which were forwards from those who were either subscribers, or to whom the message had in turn been forwarded to (in addition to the SMS I received from JNW as a subscriber).

As long as subscribers forward their SMS’s to others, JNW’s expansion through paying subscribers will be severely vitiated.

I’ve found their service to be reliable and accurate – their model is based on trust, and will break immediately and irrevocably if the news they send out is perceived to be biased, incorrect, late or any combination of these. JNW needs to be congratulated on what essentially is a one man news service model that links to stringers who are also responsible for delivering news to reputed wire news agencies, ensuring greater veracity and timely delivery. There have been some instances where JNW was hostage to network outages of their SMS gateway services provider, but as far as I can recall, I get around 2 – 3 SMS’s from them daily for the last couple of months.

JNW needs to branch off into specialised areas of news & features. Currently, as a subscriber, I have no control over the content that is “pushed” to my phone. A better model would be to allow the subscriber the freedom to choose between various news and information feeds that he / she can “pull” content from – on the model of Rasasa, which connects neatly to MSN and when I’m not online, to my mobile phone.

Some services seem to not have taken off – their web based synopsis of daily news-stories and headlines from the English, Sinhala and Tamil press, is not updated after the 17th of October. The JNW website itself needs to be upgraded, containing at present sections which are under populated, embryonic or dead – presenting an overall image of a start-up that’s not got it act together yet.

Which may well be the case – in conversations I’ve had with JNW’s visionary founder, it’s been a significant struggle to get JNW off the ground and keep it alive. While the innovation is evident, the economic model is very much uncharted territory, thus raising questions on the viability of JNW in the future. For my part, convinced that JNW does offer a unique and valuable service for civil society in Sri Lanka, linked up with JNW to provide content for Groundviews, a tri-lingual citizen media website I launched in Sri Lanka recently (linked closely to Deane’s desire to see “janatha-reporters” in Sri Lanka).

Proof of JNW’s growing popularity and maturity was seen in a short feature produced by Young Asia Television for No War Zone, where Chamath Ariyadasa and a couple of others debate the pros and cons of news via SMS, and their thoughts on JNW in particular.

The following thoughts spring to mind that JNW can use in the future to strengthen its impact, reach and economic base:

  1. Enter into agreements with commercial, civil society and international agencies to provide SMS based updates to specific target groups (say for instance, updates on specific events, public rallies, campaigns etc)
  2. Open up their service to international subscribers – there are many I personally forward JNW SMS’s to who are resident outside of Sri Lanka and would love to subscribe to JNW directly if they had the ability to do so.
  3. Linked to the comments above, provide a way in which subscribers can select the news and information they receive – moving away from the present model of one size fits all, to a more subscriber / user oriented model – allowing for instance users to pull content from RSS feeds of their choosing
  4. Expand their services to tri-lingual news – currently, their SMS’s are limited to English.
  5. A stronger marketing campaign – perhaps viral – that strengthens the image of JNW amongst a larger group of civil society.
  6. Daily Headline Briefs – morning news headlines of selected newspapers through SMS
  7. Linking up with initiatives such as Groundviews (hint, hint!) to promote citizen journalism – using JNW’s technology to facilitate users generating their own content and posting it up from their mobiles

I’m sure Chamath has lots more ideas up his sleeve – stay tuned for another review of JNW in 2007.

UPDATED – 10th April 2008

Please read the following post in particular Revenue for content providers vis-à-vis new media and related posts below:

8 thoughts on “News and information through SMS – A second look at JasmineNewswires in Sri Lanka

  1. Your review and feedback is truly appreciated Sanjana!

    The economic model is somewhat of a grey area as you mentioned; we hope JNW will be a much more lower priced service in the future which will make it irrelevant to forward news messages.

    Offering more choice is on the cards. We have some international coverage at the moment, but it has to be streamlined as you mentioned.

    Your comments about the website are duly noted.

    Since our launch in May, we are happy to have 8 freelance reporters and many contributors among subscribers.
    Subscribers acting as contributors is what is really helping us improve our news services (public journalism in other words) and facilitating that has now become our primary purpose.

    While I push out the news items, the editorial process involves at least 2 sets of eyes at any one time.
    We hope we can have more reporters and more editorial staff soon to oversee all incoming and outgoing news and to offer choice of services to readers.

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