Success Story from Helsinki

You’ve got a real-world problem that could be solved with software, but none of the pre-canned solutions you find quite fits your particular needs. Wouldn’t it be great if you could take something that almost fit and tailor it? And wouldn’t it be great if you could do it within hours and without hiring a programmer. This is the promise of App Inventor, and the promise of an open source where the “source” is actually decipherable.

I recently received a series of emails from a couple who needed an SMS Texting broadcast hub to organize a community event. They tailored one of the App Inventor tutorials I wrote, BroadcastHub, to solve the problem. From Myles Byrne:

My wife and i are respectively a cancer scientist and a bioinformatician who moved from San Francisco to Helsinki last year. We’re working extracurricularly with a local arts organization to try to lift a central neighborhood to a more creative and inclusive plane, especially regarding the growing immigrant population. So there is at least some relatedness to the mission of FrontlineSMS.

So we’re organizing events from now till 2012, when Helsinki is World Design Capital. The first such event is Saturday, and we’re trying to get  broadcastHub working in this way:

– a cell number on an Android (HTC wildfire) receives SMS’s from people who want to be part of the event
– each SMS receives an auto-response reply
– each number that sent in an SMS receives several more messages over the next few days – simple text broadcasts

I was planning to learn App Inventor at leisure. But hours of searching for commercial SMS providers doing what broadcastHub does (for Helsinki users) turned up nothing.

A few days later I received this:


Our community raising event in Helsinki went off really well. About 1000 people came.

(almost entirely in Finnish)!/profile.php?id=100001436757236

We needed SMS broadcast capabilty for up to a thousand people over a few days. We looked at FrontlineSMS, Clickatell, and others – nothing had the right fit. Then I got my invitation to App Inventor, looked at the broadcasterHub tutorial, and realized with a shock this was the perfect solution. In a few hours I was able to modify the broadcastHub tutorial app to fit exactly our needs:

Any SMS’s sent to my phone number with the app running received an autoreply: “Text ‘beatroot’ to this number to sign up for our message list.” Any numbers sending an SMS to me containing ‘beatroot’ or ‘Beatroot’ were added to the broadcast list. But because our event was in Helsinki, the broadcast messages needed to be in Finnish. So instead of writing them myself, I told the app to take any messages sent to me from Heta and Jon, the Finnish organizers of the event, and automatically re-send it to all the numbers on the broadcast list.

It really was incredibly fast and easy to modify the broadcastHub app to do only what we needed. The app worked perfectly and can be easily re-used, modified, and shared. Having the capabilities of an android phone plugged into a graphical programming environment is an amazing experience. You’re not just learning logic, you’re learning it in the context of the social world connected to your phone.

Thanks David and Google for bringing the next level, again.
We will be using your tools for more ambitious (but still local!) projects in the near future.

– Myles Byrne
Heta Kuchka
Jon Sundell
: Punajuuri (Beatroot)
Helsinki, Finland

Check out their event page at

and you’ll see the invitation for people to join their broadcast list:

Elävä musiikki alkaa viiskulmasta ja jatkuu
Pursimiehenkatua pitkin kankurinkadun kulmaan.

Send “Punajuuri” SMS to +358 50 415 6799 to get live SMS updates

Cheers to Myles and team, and cheers to the App Inventor team!