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SMS and surf

A new platform allows users web access through SMSes sent from any kind of phone


S urfing the web through SMSes? Not as farfetched as it sounds. Through txtWeb, a new technology platform, you can access the information on the World Wide Web through SMSes – and with none of the costs of owning a swanky smart phone or paying for online access.

“We have 700 million cellphone users in India, but only a fraction – just 10 per cent – has access to the Internet,” says txtWeb business head SriVidhya Ramarathnam. “Our driving vision was to bridge this divide through SMSes. With txtWeb, it doesn't matter what sort of phone you have, and you don't have to make any downloads – just send an SMS to a national number and get the information you need.”

In the six months since its launch by the Bangalore-based Intuit Inc., the service has already notched up 7,00,000 users across 400 towns and cities in India, especially from the southern states. And why not? It's not like you're paying anything extra (there are no hidden charges on these SMSes), and it's quick and easy to use.

For instance, with an SMS sent to @Wikipedia, you can access entries on the Wikipedia website; you can check status messages and make updates on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook; and you can get cricket scores, exam results, or information on your passport or pan card applications, all with an SMS or two.“But the content on txtWeb goes beyond just looking up what's on the Internet,” says SriVidhya.

Applications galore

“We also have apps (applications) that let you, for instance, calculate auto fare from point A to B (@autofare) for your city, or allow farmers to find the mandi that'll offer them the best price for their commodities (@mbuzz).”

The initiative was launched last year with a small pilot programme in four colleges, including IIT-Delhi and Mumbai, asking students to develop apps and give user feedback. Within three months, the students had created over 150 apps (some of which remain the most popular to date), and provided interesting insights into usage patterns.

The response was so promising that txtWeb has launched another such programme this year, the ‘App2Fame Challenge 2011' encouraging users to sign up and develop apps for txtWeb for a chance to win prizes. The platform is completely open (anyone can create or publish content for free), and the development process doesn't require any prior knowledge of coding.

“This time the challenge is open to everyone,” says SriVidhya. “It allows users to tell us what sort of applications they want to see, rather than us going out and building 100 applications for them.”

They've already had over 700 new developers and over 170 new applications built since the challenge got under way on May 28. “We want to continue to engage student developers, so we're giving them a chance to win internships,” says SriVidhya. “And we've created a special category for NGOs, because we want to encourage them to use this platform.”

Not surprisingly, their biggest user base so far has been 16 to 25-year-olds, but SriVidhya hopes to see that change soon, with diverse applications being developed to cater to different demographics, including more in the regional languages. “This is just the tip of a very big iceberg,” she says. The App2Fame Challenge closes on June 30. For details, check out www.txtweb.com or www.app2fame.com.

DIVYA KUMAR

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