Creating a mass buzz is central to the idea of the internet and yet, given the origins of the technology in the US and the Silicon Valley, the tendency among many is to miss what the amazing phenomenon can do. I got two insights into this last week.
The first of course, was the Egyptian Revolution. Organised over Facebook and Twitter, the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak by street protests showed the amazing power of information in organising offline activity. What took horses, pigeons and postcards in the past centuries was now accomplished over social media — in a short while, largely free.
The second was a meeting with Beerud Seth, founder and CEO of Webaroo, which runs SMS GupShup, a group messaging platform that I have written about in the past. Now, Seth is an IIT-educated US-based entrepreneur, but his eyes have been on Asia in driving group messaging platforms.
While I knew in the past about web-linked group messaging to bring together people who have no direct internet links, what made me sit up this time was the business applications that are possible with it.
SMS GupShup has united northeastern groups and joke-sharers in the past, but now, it has a strong focus on small and medium enterprises (SMEs), among which it has 10,000 customers. While we are aware of somewhat irritating sales offers by SMS, mainly from realtors, what SMS GupShup has done is to create software applications using the SMS to help small units – even shops – connect with employees, partners and customers.
“SMS is just the data layer. What you can do with it is build rich applications,” Seth said.
What this means is that using the humble SMS, small businesses are able to build loyalty programmes for customers or manage inventories and employees and track sales data.
Look hard, and you will find that SMS in such a scenario becomes for them what heavy-duty software platforms of SAP and Oracle do for multinational corporations.
The events in Egypt and the SMS applications help us understand the true mass power of the internet. This is what the late management guru C K Prahalad must have been speaking of when he talked of a “fortune at the bottom of the pyramid” –though he probably did not have Egyptian pyramids in mind.