Texting - sending short messages via sms to cell phones is a powerful but untapped tool for community organizing. Recent Pew Internet studies have shown that young people of color use texting far more than other demographic groups, and increasingly access the internet and communicate solely through their mobile devices. Given this, texting has tremendous potential to help community organizing groups in the US communicate with their members.
Attempts to incorporate SMS in the past have stagnated (http://wiki.civicrm.org/confluence/display/CRM/CiviSMS) A few important things have changed since then: the use of texting has gone up dramatically, particularly in the United States and the emergence of SMS application framework providers has made it easy and affordable to both send and receive sms messages.
While there are still some cost and opt-in barriers that need to be addressed, PTP believes that part of challenge with texting for social change organizations in the US is that the infrastructure is somewhat costly, and more importantly, is complex enough to present a significant barrier to expanded use by the groups PTP works to support. We believe that by building a texting interface in PowerBase - PTP's version of CiviCRM, we can erase barriers to use of texting and make it very easy for community groups to gain first hand experience with this potentially powerful tool for communication and constituent engagement.
How it would work:
We think the existing CiviMail system for sending mass email is a good analogy for how we envision texting to work. In the mass email system, a user creates a mailing, optionally re-using components, defines a group to send the mailing to, schedules and sends the mailing, and finally is able to view statistics related to the email that was sent.
A texting interface - CiviText, would work similarly, but would also provide for accepting information via text back into the database, ideally recorded as a response to the survey question in CiviCampaign. The general workflow would look something like this:
1) User defines a group to send a text to
2) User defines if the text will require capture of data sent back in reply to the text
3) User creates a corresponding survey and question set
4) User creates the text and includes the question and invitation to respond
5) User schedules the text for sending
6) Text is sent
7) Recipients reply to the text and their replies are added as responses in the corresponding survey answer field in their record
8) Users can view statistics on responses: # sent, # delivered, # of replies, and reply details - for free form text answers, the user would see a list of responses associated with the constituent who sent them; for binary responses (Y/N), users would see # of Y/N replies
PTP believes that the easiest way to make this accessible to users is to create a mechanism to connect CiviCRM to a tool like RapidSMS which provides the framework for sending and receiving sms text messages via gsm modem/SIM card, or via a commercial texting provider.
There is more work to do to fully explore the specifics of building this interface, but we wanted to post this blog and invite Civi community members to post thoughts, comments, and generally help us flesh out this concept so we can collectively move it forward.