Mobile Group Messaging Bridges Internet And Mobile Worlds Via IM, eMail, SMS, RSS: SwarmIt and SwarmPro - Video Review
Swarmteams Ltd, a North Ireland-based company, has just released Swarm-it! and Swarm-Pro, two new services which allow groups of people to send and receive messages instantaneously across web, email, instant messaging, mobile SMS and RSS.
An emergent behaviour is now finding its supporting technologies: swarming.
The term swarm (schooling or swarming) is applied to fish, birds and insects and describes a behavior of an aggregation of animals of similar size and body orientation, generally cruising in the same direction.
"From instant messaging systems 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."
The newly launched swarm communication service is the brainchild of "bioteaming" evangelist Ken Thompson and it is available in two basic versions, Swarm-it! for individuals or personal use and Swarm-Pro for companies and organizations, provides an effective web-based interface, accessible from any browser or computer type, that makes it extremely easy to set-up groups of contacts that you want to be messaging to. Once that is done, you, or anyone else elected in the swarm can broadcast messages to anyone of your selected "swarms" (a group of people you have signed up) and even receive replies if you decide so.
The new services bring flexible, multi-channel mobile group messaging to anyone with a mobile phone or web connection no matter where they are. The service in fact works globally across continents and different mobile operators. Swarm-it! and SwarmPro also support direct communication to instant messaging platforms such as ICQ, Skype and MSN Messenger.
Sign-up is completely free and Swarmteams provides you with sufficient initial credit to have you swarm with your preferred contacts in no time at all. Once you run out of free credits, the system informs you so that you can re-charge your account electronically. Contacts in your swarms that want to create new swarms credit you and themselves with extra free swarming credits, making service adoption chain frictionless and always incentivated.
The service is still in Beta and it will be introducing several improvements and additions in the coming weeks.
Here more details about Swarm-it! and SwarmPro key functionalities supported by three exclusive video clips showcasing you the interface main traits and the basics of how to use this new service:
In these three short video clips, executive editor Michael Pick takes you on a relaxing guided tour of SwarmPro key features:
Video one: Intro and setting up a swarm
Video two: Sending a message - the options
Video three: Filesharing, personal preferences, outro
Interface and ease of use
As you may have been able to gather from the short mini video tours showcased above, the Swarmteams services are very simple and easy to use. In fact, nonetheless I have been myself involved in the UI design strategy (see disclosure at bottom), I objectively find the interface and set of commands provided very simple and easy to use.
Inviting people to a swarm is very simple and direct, and accessing, replying and sending out new messages (which can include file attachments), is as straightforward as it can be.
Users have also full control on their ability set preferential delivery channels for incoming messages, and can therefore (if allowed by the owner) set only specific reception channels while turning other ones off.
Swarm owners have a wide set of options in how they can set-up their swarm groups, having the power to brand, configure and decide what features are provided to the swarm members, including the ability to view the messageboard and the message replies, the option to see member's details and to send private messages, the ability for members to broadcast from web and sms and the capability to subscribe to a swarm directly via SMS.
The swarm owner can also broadcast one way messages to the whole contacts group, and specify (in the case of Swarm-Pro) which sub-groups within the swarm will receive the message. Swarm members can be in fact sorted in three different groups within each swarm: a core group (those that are most critical and important), an intermediate group (which includes the core and other members), and the whole swarm. In this way, and with the addition of another useful message characterizer, the message purpose, swarm communications can be delivered with more precision and greater effect, allowing swarm owners to differentiate between critical messages to send to a few and public messages which need to be delivered to everyone.
A great feature is the ability to initiate easily a Skype call to any member of a swarm from within the Swarm-it! / Swarm-Pro interface.
The weak areas, if I was forced to identify some, lay in some of the more advanced abilities, like the overall settings of a swarm, which may require a little bit of time to be fully understood and appreciated, as well as in the inappropriate use of some terminology (e.g.: the use of "rings" terminology which doesn't help much the user understand what is being offered to her), and in other yet unrefined components in the interface which may be integrated in more logical ways (Skype call integration).
In the very near-future Swarm-it! and Swarm-Pro will add a new key feature called smart delivery which will add some true intelligence to the message delivery and distribution approach. With smart delivery, if you are active on your instant messenger of choice, you will not be sent the same message on your mobile or in your email. Vice-versa, if you are not on your IM and not connected to the web, your message will try to reach you first on your mobile phone. Several settings will allow both swarm owners and swarm group members to refine and edit smart delivery preferences as to satisfy their own specific needs.
Swarm-it! and Swarm-Pro - What differences?
Swarm-it! and Swarm-Pro are nearly identical in their interface with only a few differences setting them apart.
Swarm-it! owners can create a maximum of five swarms with no more than 20 people in each.
Swarm-Pro account owners have instead the ability to create unlimited swarms with unlimited members.
Swarm-Pro also allows more sophisticated delivery options including "rings" and "message purpose". Further, swarm owners can select to either maintain total control over their swarm (star swarm) or to enable all swarm users for direct message broadcast with full privileges (peer swarm).
Last but not least the Pro version also allows to create swarms that can be joined directly via SMS without the need to receive a personal invitation.
Swarm-it! is free to sign-up for with a bonus of 50 free messages ready to be used. After those are exhausted Swarm-it! costs $9.95 for 100 SMS.
Swarm-Pro has no fixed pricing yet and you need to talk to Swarmteams Ltd to get an estimate, as cost will be determined upon your specific needs for services.
Swarm-it! and SwarmPro are powerful new flexible communication services which seamlessly bridge Internet communication channels with the mobile phone world.
Possible applications and uses seem to have no specific boundaries and can range from an updating messaging and information service for any conference or event that wants to keep its delegates informed in real-time (no matter where they are) , to public alert and emergency support services which require capillary and instant distribution of danger alerts in the shortest time possible and across all communication channels available. Given the increasingly high penetration of mobile phones among poor people in the third-world, if Tsunami-hit countries would have had at their disposal a system like this, paid by international support agencies and/or by local governments, thousands of lives could have been easily saved.
The diversity of possible applications and their typologies seems to also embrace a wide range of situations, that include small group two-way messaging used by small communities, learning groups, or friends circles to one-way broadcast services that could be utilized for extensive brand promotion, sweepstakes or to deliver targeted information to paying subscribers across multiple media channels instantly.
A large company could even advertise a keyword+number to be used to sign-up to a swarm that sends out alerts on specific topics or products for an unlimited number of subscribers. The signers-up don't pay anything while getting some useful service, and the company can communicate directly and instantaneously to them across multiple communication channels. Hey, that's pretty powerful.
But I know I am scratching only the surface. There is a lot more that can be done with this new type of swarm communication technologies and only widespread use and adoption will help reveal new and unthought-of opportunities.
Swarmteams is an interesting new player in a field that has been growing at record speed in the last few months. Whether Swarmteams has enough momentum and useful features to be adopted by large numbers of people is difficult to say but, what is sure in my opinion is that it will certainly meet an aggressive and rapidly growing competition as the new market is has entered and helped define is undoubtedly an area promising very high growth in the near term.
Once again interface design, usability / ease of use, and the ability to promptly respond to market needs and request will determine much of Swarmteams success in the future.
The potential is all there. To you now the responsibility to test, verify and evaluate this new powerful way of group communication.
I have been a professional consultant and advisor to Ken Thompson (CEO of Swarteams Ltd) for the last two years. I have been contracted in the past to provide my professional skills to support Ken's communication strategies, some of his multimedia presentations, and to design his Bioteaming-focussed web site and blog. I have also landed my expertise to Swarteams Ltd to strategize its product characteristics and key features while I was also responsible to direct and coordinate key interface design and usability work on the new services described above. I have recently taken some distance from the company, for which I have presently no open contract or assignment, to allow myself enough detachment and objectivity to be able to report about it without favouring it in any particular way (this may be impossible due to my emotional and past professional involvement with Ken but I felt most appropriate at least creating some distance).
I have also co-authored with Ken the Bioteaming Manifesto, which laid out "bioteaming" founding principles and the conceptual background needed to give birth to this new range of swarm communication services.Robin Good -
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