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Kenya’s Ushahidi Launches Group Messaging Service Ping

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pingForget Ello, now available in 15 languages and working with a variety of global SMS providers like Nexmo, Twilio, Clickatell, among others, Ushahidi’s has today launched in private alpha to open doors to businesses, municipalities, and organizations to create a tool that meets their real needs.

Ping will help users quickly find out whether their families, friends, and teams are safe anywhere in the world and on nay device. Ushahidi says Ping has modules that work with a dozen carriers around the world and allows one to send messages via email or SMS and on nay device. The service is now availabel in English, French, Spanish, Russian and more coming up. The service allows users to create and store contacts with multiple numbers and email addresses for each for multiple points of contact and users can also add their contacts to a group so they can ping multiple people with the push of a button.

Like Ushahidi, Ping is built for emergencies but as a messaging service it can be deployed anytime anyway. It’s aimed at serving small groups, families, and companies that need to quickly check in with each other. Ping is simple to use and can be used on the most basic phones and anywhere in the world.

Juliana Rotich, Ushahidi’s Executive Director wrote, “Ping is our contribution, a hosted service that doesn’t require a certain device or a certain platform to send or receive messages. Set it up and, whether emergency hits or you just want to check in with your friends, family, or colleagues, type a short message and hit send. Your ping will go out to everyone at once and the service will update their status as they respond. Nothing to install or confirm. Simple, effective, immediate.”

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Ushahidi has hit a jackpot. Giants like Yahoo are looking for the next killer thingto bank their reserves on after Alibaba and the trend is hugely heading in the mobile messaging industry after Whatsapp was acquired for $19 billion (read $22b) and every other firm is trying its hand at the sector even when services like KakaoTalk, Kik, Line, Secret, Snapchat, Tango, Viber, or Whisper are still penetrating markets.

According to a report by Forrester, a research and data firm, “Messaging apps have the potential either to become digital platforms or to significantly enhance the power of current platforms because they so clearly deliver the three things that determine digital platform power: frequent interactions, emotional connection, and convenience.”

The report cites WeChat a the best example and urges marketers to experiment and to anticipate the next steps as the apps are the new face of social in a mobile context. The report adds that “mobile allows users to seamlessly merge social offline experiences with online communications; offer more instantaneous and emotional forms of social communications; and provide users new ways to manage identities.

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Ping, like other messaging apps can be used to benefit marketers to reach their global audience, engage with customers on their mobeil phones and Ping can later add services such as sponsored games, location-based services, commerce, payments among others.

To use Ping is huge but Rotich says it’s a service responding to a need.

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“We love building software (and now hardware) this way: responding to a need, a community,” she writes. ” Our products have been better for it, ourselves unable to see the whole path before us by trusting that by building communities before audiences, platforms/foundations before features.”

We will love to see how Ping picks up.

According to a report by The Guardian, “Messaging is enticing for a few reasons. For one, it’s a medium used by people all over the world. For another, it’s quieter; messages deliver a stream of photos, video or simple text direct from loved ones, without the added noise of everyone else on the internet. Messages provide for the fastest way for people to connect or find each other in a crowd. And messages allow people to buy stuff – lots and lots of stuff – in an almost criminally seamless manner.”

We think Ping will grow to fulfill the above dreams. It’s not so new. Worked on Ping began immidiately after the horrible WestGate attacks in Kenya September last year. The firm said Ping was basically a binary, multichannel check-in tool for groups and the first version allowed users to:

  • You create a list of your people (family, organization), and each person also adds another contact who is close to them (spouse, roommate, boy/girlfriend, etc).

  • When a disaster happens, you send out a message for everyone to check-in. The admin sends out a 120 character message that always has “are you ok?” appended to the end.

  • This goes out via text message and email (more channels can be added later).

  • The message goes out three times, once every 5 minutes. If there is a response, then that person is considered okay. If no response, then 3 messages get sent to their other contact.

  • We file each response into one of 3 areas: responded (verified), not responded, not okay.

  • Every message that comes back from someone in that group is saved into a big bucket of text, that the admin can add notes to if needed.

Though Ping’s functionality is solid, a Wired report claims messaging apps are the fastest-growing category in the App Store and are fast graduating from Yo-like free messaging apps to sophisticated value-added platform which rich sets of functionality. So might Ping.

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Sam Wakoba
Sam Wakoba
Taking you on tour through Africa's tech and business ecosystem, one story at a time since 2010! Based out of Nairobi, Kenya, Sam is the founder and managing director of Moran Media, which runs, various other digital platforms and a startup incubation hub for Kenya's youthful entrepreneurs. Drop me a mail at [email protected]

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