Monday, June 28, 2010

SMS Data Bus for the Developing World

As part of SchoolTool's work with the National Institute for Education Planning and Administration in Nigeria, we've been discussing integrating SMS text messaging into the application. I have to admit that, being somewhat of a phone luddite, until today I didn't completely grok what my friends in the other side of the world were talking about. What they have in mind is not just sending text messages to people, but using SMS as a data bus a la the RapidSMS project.

For example, say the national Ministry of Education wants to collect demographic information from a tiny school in the middle of nowhere. Not only is there no internet connection to the school, there is no phone line, and there never will be. There is cell phone reception. With a GSM modem connected to the school's SchoolTool server (maybe your $99 SchoolToolBox) would be able to exchange data with a Ministry server via a series of SMS messages, to, say, report new student enrollments.

While this setup is not cost free, it would be a reasonably inexpensive solution to what is a nagging problem. Simply collecting paper school census forms a couple times a year from every school in a poor country with bad infrastructure is a burden, and the lack of accurate data at the national level has real implications.

So, I'm excited to see if we can make this work.

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