We wanted to help connect the world together a bit better by increasing the accessibility to messaging your Facebook friends. We meet so many people through life and its unreasonable to expect to have everyone's phone number on hand. The way we decided to tackle these problems and fill this gap is by creating Textbridge. It will let you message your Facebook friends without WiFi, data and their phone number. Textbridge is not meant to replace SMS, but rather act as a complement to ensure that everyone remains connected to their network despite their accessibility to the internet.

About our hack

Text Bridge is a service that allows you to connect to your Facebook contacts without the need of WiFi, data and anyone's phone number.
If someone goes offline, it is impossible to contact them without their phone number and often times I've found, you don't have someone's number when you need it the most.
But, it's ridiculous to assume that anyone would have every Facebook friend as their phone contact. That's what textbridge tries to accomplish. Instead of a 1000 contacts, you only need 1.
It goes both ways as well. Even if you're the one who is offline, you can shoot a quick message to your Facebook friend without their number.

The user experience

A user would login to their Facebook account on https://textbridge.online and provide their phone number. They can change the number, delete their account or view the information we have about them anytime.

In case the user wanted to message one of their friends, who also signed up for the service, they would send a text to +1 647-694-2223 with the format of their friend's name followed by the message they wish to send on the next line. Their friend would then receive a text with the person who sent it and the message itself. They can then choose to reply with the same format as above.

How it works

We used the Facebook API for login authentication and to retrieve friends lists. To send and receive text messages, we also used the Twilio API and a webhook. We got the domain, textbridge.online from domain.com and used a GCP compute engine to host our website. We wrote the backend of our web app using django templates and postgresql. We ensured to keep reliability and security in mind during this project. We established SSL certificates for our domain and did sanity checks where we felt injection might be a threat.

Challenges Faced

  • GCP Cluster denied us ssh access after we hosted our website on it because of a bad firewall rule. We ended up having to redo the deployment and hosting of our web app.
  • We anticipated we would be able to pull phone number straight from the facebook API but eventually realized that would not be the case. We decided to add another data point in the sign-up process as a work around to this issue.

Things learned

  • How to use a GCP engine to host a django server.
  • Integrating Facebook API into a web application.
  • Using Twilio to receive text messages and doing something with the data.

Next Steps

  • Include Facebook group chat functionality by leveraging browser cookies and additional phone numbers.
  • Media descriptions using Azure Cognitive Services.
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