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Making the World a Better Place One SMS app at a Time

A technology that we’re very excited about here at Big Human is SMS.

SMS,  the ever-present, ever-reliable but not so sexy cell phone technology.  While today many of us use various applications like Messenger, Whatsapp, iMessage, or even Slack in place of SMS to send messages, SMS remains one of the most useful apps out there.

We’ve built several SMS based apps but one of our most widely used is the Plentiful app. The app was part of a larger project we did in 2016 for the NYC Food Assistance Collaborative.  The problem we were tasked with solving was how to make the city’s food pantries easier for families to access and for pantries to manage.

Our research—interviews, surveys, and forums—showed us that one of the major impediments to getting food was making an appointment.  We learned that although the primary computing device in low income (annual income below $30,000) homes is often a smartphone, and some households don't actually have one. In fact, Pew estimates that roughly 3-in-10 adults don't own a smartphone. The tool we needed to build would have to work on both smart and general mobile phones.

SMS was a natural fit; text is a widely used, familiar method of communication. Using twilio as a third-party integration, we created the Plentiful app.  The app enables users to find food pantries, schedule an appointment, and check-in to pantries across all 5 boroughs. Since its launch, the app has helped New Yorkers schedule more than 1 million visits to pantries.

We know that this is only the beginning of the SMS renaissance.  We recently discovered Wise Messenger, an awesome SMS application developed by Stanford’s Legal Design Lab.  Like Plentiful, Wise Messenger uses SMS to help people schedule and change appointments in this case for court dates and appearances. What is important to us, is that both apps use SMS technology in an inventive and visionary way to address a historically underserved part of the population.

As passionate designers and developers, we create digital solutions to real problems by building tools meant for everyone. If you’ve got an idea you’d like to jam on, come say hello—we’re always excited to build something that changes the way people live.

July 26, 2019TIL