Over 5 billion people worldwide have a mobile phone connection today, compared to the 4 billion current Internet users. The aim of this project is to build a primitive SMS browser that can bridge the gap between the 1 billion people who are connected via mobile phones, but not the Internet.

What it does

TextTheNet enables a small, but growing set of interactions with pages:

  • Snippet: Returns a quick snippet of whatever you're looking for, as well as the URL where it's located
  • Summary: Returns a summary of the text on the page, like an article or an encyclopedia entry
  • Image (requires MMS): Sends an image of whatever you're looking for
  • Browse (requires MMS): Sends a snapshot of a URL you've specified

Sample user flow:

A user encounters a new word "emoji", and needs to find out what it is. They text "snippet emoji", which returns a text description of an emoji from Wikipedia at Very descriptive, but not that easy to understand. Since they have MMS, they also do an image search with "image emoji". Great! For more information on emojis, they want to look at the Wikipedia article a little more in detail, so they ask for "summary".

Challenges we ran into

Our Azure subscription that we used for another hackathon expired, so it was harder to get up and running when we tried to reuse tools. It was also a little hard to collaborate on the Stdlib code editor when we were used to git cloning our projects onto our own machines.

We also assumed for a majority of the project that MessageBird was able to deliver SMS messages to a client. After following the initialization steps multiple times, we found that MessageBird was only able to receive messages, so we had to switch to Stdlib's utils.sms and utils.mms libraries. Finding this out only during the last 10% of the hackathon really messed with our UX flows.

What we learned

How to leverage Stdlib's platform to build cool apps that empower people with access to knowledge, as well as how long it takes for the average text message to be sent and received at

What's next for TextTheNet?

We haven't yet figured multi-message transactions (think "reply 1 to go to the next page)", but it would enable a variety of other user flows, such as scrolling through a longer article or navigating normally through a network of pages much easier. Text-based browser have been around for a while (see: Lynx, eLinks), so we're interested in looking at UX in those browser and incorporating them into the SMS handlers.

Another cool application that costs much less than Twilio/MessageBird to operate can be found at JMP, which is based on the secure, open XMPP protocol. This provides many more benefits if we consider developing TextTheNet into a scalable service for use around the globe.

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