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SMS Smart Texting: Routing Logic and Trigger Events for Mobile Academic Communities in East Africa

SMS rule routing: Smart Texting

Another useful bit of information on Mobile Active was their How To Set up an SMS System guide, that is proving very helpful in developing some pragmatic processes for setting up SMS systems that might serve academics. I am speaking specifically of setting up mobile communities of practice for historians (faculty or students) in East Africa. I recommend giving it a look when you can spare the time.

What immediately grabbed my attention as something that might be practical for my research is smart texting. Once again, I turn to Mobile Active for explanatory text:

Smart texting is an advanced form of keyword response in which an incoming text message triggers a complex interaction. This may include calling external programmes to process the message, or requesting further information from the user. It can also be used to run an SMS information service, in which the incoming SMS contains a query (‘WEATHER cape town’, ‘CROP PRICES cofimvaba’) and the response is retrieved from a database or the web. Example: A basic citizen reporting system could work as follows: Someone texts the word “REPORT” and a description of the incident to a widely publicised mobile number. This could be something like ‘REPORT robbery in progress corner shop Cala road’. The system could respond with “Thanks for reporting! Do you have a photo to add? Send an MMS to this number”. If the next message from this person is an MMS then the message details and the picture can be saved together. The report could also be forwarded to a reporter in the field, who might want to follow up the incident.

Essentially, these are routing rules and I do quite a bit of that work now for crowdsourcing scientific data using DISQUS. So, this could work using Frontline SMS and academic communities if these query triggers were terms or concepts that resonated in the historical community. So, the complex routes triggered by terms would be modeled on existing historical workflows and, ideally, in Swahili. Such a model would be part of the participatory design process and so would be owned by the community itself. If we wanted to model these trigger events strictly from historical practice, we could do with some of the following (please forgive what I am undoubtedly sure is incorrect Kiswahili):

  • EVENT (TUKIO)- calls for participation in upcoming events, workshops, conferences
  • JOIN (KUJIUNGA NA)- calls for collaboration on research, paper or monograph writing
  • DISCUSS (KUJADILI)- discussions on historical topics of interest, discussion threads
  • INTRODUCE (KUANZISHA)- introduce new members, new discussion topics, new ideas for the group
  • MEET (KUKUTANA)- look up biographical and contact information of member. For example, texting KUKUTANA Michael Gallagher would produce my biography and contact information.

So, smart texting gave me a conceptual process-based understanding of some of the complex exchanges that might take place in these mobile communities of practice. It is important to consistently remind myself that establishing the network is only half the project; making it useful and sustainable is the other. Using routing structures, filters, and other tricks of information science towards our mutual benefit will certainly help this process along.

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About Author

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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