Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Mobile Messaging Extends Groups Communication Abilities: Swarming Is Next

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Mobile messaging is about to break free from being a telephone-based-only universe, as more and more of the Internet-based communication channels start to interoperate with it.

Swarming is about to bridge mobile phones and Internet-based communications channels.

Photo credit: Marc Dietrich

From instant messaging system that have now started to offer SMS messaging support, to mobile phones based tools that allow you to reach your contacts on the web, there is a growing number of interesting new services that allow the bridging of the mobile and Internet communication delivery channels in ways that facilitate group communications across multiple media as well as enable entire new forms of collaboration, cooperation and communication among small and large groups of people.

Pervasive, always-on communication networks that allow you to instantly alert all of your family members of a sudden emergency need, or to broadcast to 53 people of your alumni association the newly decided restaurant location for today anniversary dinner are the next wave of communication technologies facilitating instantaneous cooperation among individuals and groups.

No matter where each one of these people is or how they are choosing to receive their communications, reaching across geographical boundaries, roaming competencies and contract limits and seamlessly across email, mobile SMS, and instant messaging networks is just the next step in our communication revolution.

This is what many call swarming.

Photo credit:

The term "swarming" that has been used increasingly to refer to "systems in which autonomy, emergence and distributedness replace control, preprogramming an centralization" is swarming.

Text messaging has enabled, in the recent past, swarming actions, that have had very major social and cultural impacts. Howard Rheingold's book, entitled Smart Mobs, explains and describes in much detail how text messaging has enabled groups of several thousands people to move and act rapidly by self-coordinating itself via SMS mobile phone messaging.

When applied to communication scenarios, swarming can indeed provide a uniquely flexible and robust method of rapid communication to both small and large groups of people, which has the powerful advantage of adapting quickly to changing environments and to continue functioning even when individual elements fail.


Though recently the term "swarming" has been mostly associated with military strategies, the same term can indeed come to refer to the ability of groups of people that can move and act in unison even when not in direct physical communication with each other.

And as mobile messaging systems start to synergize with Internet-based delivery channels such as instant messaging, email and RSS the potential development of such services may very well be way beyond the few simple scenarios that we can now imagine.

But what are the specific needs giving way to this new communication ability?

Essentially people want and need to be able to communicate their own peers, be they work teams, family members, or the hundreds members of an association, and to be able to do so easily, from any communication device they happen to be on, and no matter where their contacts are or what communication device they have nearest to them.

People want to poll, alert, inform or receive and reply to timely information coming from some selected groups of people they have strong relations with.

Imagine a group of students from an American University visiting Rome all together and having such a swarming system at their disposal. Not only could the group tour the city at once as they all do, but now individual or small groups could easily go and visit freely different parts of the city, while the easily coordinating with all others on where to meet at a specific time to for a large group visit. Changes of schedule are easily announced and anyone in the group can reply easily to the coordinator or to everyone else.

But the uses, I guess, could be many more:

a) A company could allow people to subscribe to its swarming channel to receive constant updates and specialized information updates. That is an elegant way to say that any company wanting to reach anytime, anywhere its customers, in exchange for something the customer valued, could now effectively do so 24/7/365 anywhere you are. Yes, only if you allow it to, but then again the motivators to make you do so could be many and varied.

b) Emergency support organizations could use this system to send out alerts to their global network of volunteers and guaranteeing a much higher rate of success in timely reaching all recipients no matter where they are or what they device they have available for their communications.

c) Teenager tribes, who have been swarming naturally with their existing text messaging ability coupled with mobile phones group addressing facility, can more easily coordinate their next move around events, while smaller circles within them can keep a live two-way ongoing interaction open at all times.

d) Social and political activists could be further enabled in their ability to coordinate pacific demonstrations and to respond within them to rapidly changing scenarios, enabled by the "pervasive" intelligence of all the swarming demonstrators who could communicate at any time to all others whichever critical information becoming available.

e) Distributed virtual teams could more effectively coordinate their activities and communications while working at a software devlopment project, or at the design of new car.

But, where do I see the signs of this ocming?

From instant messaging tools like Skype, Microsoft Live Messenger or Yahoo Messenger extending their communication abilities to mobile phones, landlines and SMS messaging to dedicated mobile services that enable group messaging functions not available until today, the signs that something is changing, are all around.

Check out these for an appetizer:

TxtGroups is a mobile messaging service that allows instant group communication via SMS. Once you register, you can join groups and create your own to instantly connect with friends, family and business clients. After creating a group, you will only need to send one SMS to a specific number and txtGroups will deliver it to the whole group. You can create public groups and private groups. Alerts and group messages you receive on your mobile phone or device from the txtGroups service cost $0.25. Standard wireless carrier fees may apply for sending text messages to the txtGroups service. The txtGroups service is active across Canada, with plans to launch in the United States within 2006. Free sign up.

Parlis is a web-based instant messenger that enables you to text chat and share files with your contacts. With Parlis you can also send free SMS to all those friends of yours across the world who have mobile phones and also receive SMS from Parlis directly to your mobile. Parlis does not require downloading or installing because all you need is an Internet connection. You can access to Parlis from all web browsers and operative systems. It is also possible to integrate Parlis in your desktop (this feature is available only for Windows operative systems and Internet Explorer).

Ipipi is a service that allows you to send SMS text messages worldwide from the web, email, or from any mobile phone. Ipipi works anywhere around the world with an official global coverage of over 140 countries/networks. Not only. You can also send email from your own mobile phone to any email account. For businesses, a Corporate Account is available that includes:
* unlimited user accounts under one admin account
* corporate reporting to view usage patterns for your users
* central user management - admin can add, delete or modify user privileges
* calendar feature to create future text alerts for meetings, bill payments, etc.
Ipipi is a pay-as-you-go service. Rates depend on how many credits are purchased at once starting from 50 credits for $.15 per SMS. There is a one-time set-up fee of $99 for a Corporate Account.

PartySync is a service that enables you to create mobile-based groups of people with whom you can share, synchronize data and have group chats via text messaging. You simply need to send a text/photo message to the group number that PartySync will assign to you and it will be forwarded to all the members. You will not be charged for messages to every member and any member can simply reply back and chat to the whole group. You can also send text/photo messages from PartySync web site. PartySync works in all countries and it's free to use.

PixPulse is a unique photo-sharing service for your camera phone or mobile device. Users upload photos or video to their "personal media channel," allowing multiple friends to instantly see the material on mobile phones or on the net. PixPulse differs from other similar services by offering a social networking aspect similar to or flickr, which allows tagging so people with similar interests can connect to each other. Users can notify multiple friends at once with PixPulse, saving the cost of sending multiple SMS messages. PixPulse supports all mobile carriers and works on any phone with camera or video capabilities, SMS/MMS and WAP 2.0. The service is free.

As you can see, there is quite a number of services pointing in this direction, and in the coming months you will see more and more of these spring up.

Mobile messaging, group texting, swarming will soon become more familiar terms.

The challenges facing those designing, developing and marketing these new tools is peppered with the need to:

a) resolve many usability issues on the mobile phone side,

b) invent and test out new business models,

c) route messages intelligently across multiple delivery channels,

d) provide full interoperability with other delivery channels such as diverse instant messaging networks, while

e) making available open-APIs allowing other systems to hook and interoperate with theirs

f) accommodate multiple communication approaches (star, peer-to-peer, one-way, two-way, many-to-many)

From what I can see from here, give or take a few more months, you will be able to easily message and communicate with your contact groups from any communication device. Be that instant messaging, email, web, or mobile SMS.

The implications are many, and in fact too many to be easily understood and appreciated at once. What instead stand out as being the unequivocable key benefits of the adoption of these new technologies are:

1) Instantly communicate / message with your selected group of contacts, be that your virtual work team or your family.

2) Send out messages from either your computer, PDA or mobile phone.

3) Receive and view replies from your contacts on any device you want.

4) Allow peers to "broadcast" messages to the whole group or maintain a centralized control.

5) Bridge all communication channels and contact groups by having all your contacts always at your fingertips.

6) Sleep golden dreams as intelligent message routing decides whether it should deliver your next incoming message just your email or to your IM and mobile as well.

Mobile messaging is indeed going to bridge and mesh together all of our diverse communication channels into one.

While there are indeed tons of challenges to be faced, the usefulness and breadth of possible applications makes this a sector that it is going to see a very fast and consistent growth.

Stay tuned.

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posted by Robin Good on Saturday, June 10 2006, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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