RapidPro: an open source interactive texting system

MargaretDevelopment Tools, Legal Product DesignLeave a Comment

The team at TextIt has made their code base open source, calling it RapidPro, meaning that others can use this code base to develop their own interactive texting systems.

The code will let you construct an interactive system that texts & responds to end users via SMS messages on a phone.  It’s wonderfully visual as an authoring tool, letting you lie out the flow through a mindmap-like visual interface.

This type of tool is great for Coaching functions, giving Instructions and orientation to a user, or providing them standard answers to FAQs.

We’ve been a bit quiet on this blog for the past six months but today we’re at last ready to tell you why.

As most of you already know, TextIt was born from Nyaruka’s experience building custom SMS systems for NGOs in East Africa. Over the course of four years, our team in Rwanda built dozens of custom systems to collect, communicate and aggregate data using SMS in sectors spanning agriculture, health and governance. For each of those projects we used the excellent Open Source framework called RapidSMS, originally built and stewarded by UNICEF.

Though the process of building many one-off systems made for a good consultancy, we began to grow frustrated that we weren’t making a larger impact – enabling more people to reap the rewards of simple messaging campaigns. It was with that goal of enabling access to great technology that two years ago we embarked on our journey to build TextIt. While not based on RapidSMS, TextIt was informed and in some ways inspired by our experience using it, so it’s no big surprise that some of our biggest fans came from inside UNICEF. After all, UNICEF is perhaps the single largest and most informed user of SMS systems in the developing world.

But despite loving the work we had done with TextIt, UNICEF had reservations about adopting it internally given their strong tradition of using Open Source platforms. The developing sector has seen first hand what can happen when a vendor has exclusive rights to a platform, vendors can become, well, greedy, and stop investing in a platform, sitting on their laurels instead of continuing to innovate. Having a platform be Open Source gives customers the leverage of taking their business elsewhere if worst comes to worst, which keeps everyone honest.

So it was with that context that UNICEF approached us to take the technology platform that was TextIt and Open Source it as RapidPro.

You might think this was a hard decision for us to make, to publish our secret sauce if you will, but really it fit perfectly with our original mission: to enable every organization to use SMS to improve the efficacy of their programs. Not only is RapidPro now being used in a dozen (and growing) UNICEF offices at a scale which we could only dream of previously, but UNICEF’s involvement guarantees that the the platform will continue to grow, mature, and become ever more capable.

Best of all, UNICEF’s investment in the platform didn’t end at Open Sourcing, along the way they also funded development to add lots of exciting new features, from new ways of communicating to users, better analytics and more, all of which we’ll be talking about in upcoming posts.

Over the past few days we’ve migrated our TextIt servers to run this new RapidPro platform, and today we’re happy to announce that TextIt is a RapidPro provider. As we make improvements to TextIt, we’ll continue to roll those changes into RapidPro, just as changes made to RapidPro will be rolled into the TextIt service.

For TextIt users this means you now have the added benefit of knowing your chosen platform is also being used by one of the largest aid organizations in the world and that it will continue to thrive and grow for years to come. If you are a current TextIt user, thank you for being part of that journey, we look forward to continuing to serve you.

Last but certainly not least, we’d love to thank everyone we’ve worked with at UNICEF in the past six months. In the end it is their trust and faith in what we’ve built that has allowed us to make RapidPro a reality and we look forward to continuing to move the platform forward together.

If you haven’t yet signed up and are curious about RapidPro, you can set up a TextIt account instantly to try RapidPro today.

Some common questions that have come up and their answers:

What is the difference between RapidPro and TextIt?

RapidPro is a software platform, TextIt is a hosted service. Running the RapidPro platform yourself requires you to acquire web and database servers, load balancers and have the expertise to run, maintain and keep all the software up to date in a secure, high availability data center. TextIt takes care of doing all of that for you, while also providing technical support and assistance, letting you focus on accomplishing your goals with the platform.

Does RapidPro being Open Source mean TextIt is now free?

No, as discussed above, TextIt is a hosting service for the RapidPro platform, and as such we have costs associated with running the servers, maintenance, support and ongoing improvements to the platform. As a rough guideline, if you think TextIt is too expensive, then you definitely cannot afford to host RapidPro in a reliable manner yourself.

Where can I access the RapidPro source code?

All the source code for RapidPro is available on GitHub. We are also making every effort to perform ongoing development, even bug fixes, transparently and in the open. Our goal is to have an open and vibrant community moving the platform forward, come and join us!

via TextIt Open Sources Technology Platform as RapidPro – TextIt Blog.

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