kiwanja.net launches the new FrontlineSMS

This is something I rarely do – plug a product. But my friend Ken Banks has something special with FrontlineSMS and I encourage you strongly to try it out. 

I’ve played with the beta and written about it (in sum, not a very positive experience) but Ken assures me that the feedback received from the beta testing stage has been incorporated into the final product. Importantly and excitingly, FrontlineSMS now runs natively on OS X and Linux, which means that I don’t have to use Bootcamp anymore to use this. 

For over a year now I’ve been following Ken’s work with FrontlineSMS and frankly, it’s been an inspiring story. In a conversation with Colin Rule in October last year, Ken Banks explains the raison d’etre of FrontlineSMS. Having already proven itself in Pakistan at the worst of times amongst many other places, the new avatar of FrontlineSMS with its multi-OS client will be a tool that drives SMS advocacy and strategic communications via mobiles, including that which I have written about earlier as the development of m-government services.

The Press Release of the new version of FrontlineSMS is here. Go to the FrontlineSMS website here

I’m looking forward to using the new version and will put a post in the coming months with my experiences of using it for my work in Sri Lanka. 

FrontlineSMS on Facebook

FrontlineSMS Facebook Group

Ken Banks, whose life and work I admire a great deal, recently emailed me about joining the FrontlineSMS Supporters Group on Facebook. I am yet to be convinced that Facebook is, beyond the hype, truly capable as a serious collaboration and socio-political activist site, but I along with others have had to ditch initial scepticism in the face of the exponential growth of users on Facebook (and its multi-billion dollar valuation and Microsoft stake).

All this aside, what grabbed my attention the most was what Ken told me in his email:

“I believe there is great potential in leveraging the Facebook community to connect them directly with NGOs in the field, rather than via a head office in London, New York or wherever. I have a number of plans on how to do this, some of which are pretty exciting and innovative”

He goes further in a recent blog post on the FrontlineSMS Facebook group, where he avers:

Maybe one key advantage of Facebook is that once you’re registered you can show your support for multiple causes or interest groups with a couple of simple mouse clicks.

This thinking seems to be in line with a recent article in the New York Times on how social networking technologies such as Facebook are helping to alleviate poverty.

What do you think? Fact or fiction?

Having started my own Facebook Group on ICT4Peace I’ll be looking forward to Ken’s ideas and innovation on how best to leverage communities of practice on Facebook and also to the development of FrontlineSMS, that I’m very keen to deploy in the field in Sri Lanka in support of a number of initiatives ranging from Citizens Journalism to human rights monitoring and reporting.

Also read these posts on FrontlineSMS:

And these on mobiles supporting and strengthening socio-political transformation and peacebuilding:

SMS for election monitoring, peacebuilding and strengthening democracy – A conversation with Ken Banks

This podcast, from Cyberweek 2007, is a conversation between Colin Rule (Director of ODR at eBay/PayPal) and Ken Banks, founder of kiwanja.net and creator of FrontlineSMS.

To download the mp3 file or listen to it online, visit VOR Radio here. For more information on the podcast, visit here. (File size 30.46Mb, running time approx. 30 mins)

Colin and Ken touch upon much of what I’ve articulated on this blog as sustainable and appropriate technologies to support grassroots empowerment. There is skepticism, rightfully, expressed on the XO laptop (alias $100 laptop) and Negroponte’s promises, with Ken making the point that many in the developing world still use mobile phones only capable of basic SMS. This is also a point I have raised on this blog in detail earlier. Ken’s vast experience in countries in Africa, India and other parts of the world is useful in this regard, since he speaks from the perspective of an innovator acutely aware of ground realities.

I’ve written about FrontlineSMS and the power of mobile phones to augment democracy earlier, and look forward to its development to support a number of activities I am facilitating in Sri Lanka, ranging from Human Rights monitoring to citizens journalism (Groundviews and Vikalpa).

This is a must listen podcast for anyone interested in using mobile phones for social activism.