SmileSMS – A Social Network for the Internet Impaired

Smile SMS - A Social Network for the Internet ImpairedGuest blogger Lance Seidman writes:

If you’re a typical citizen of the modern western world and take part in daily social media websites on your phone with apps or an implementation of Twitter, Facebook, and so on, you almost can’t think of socializing in any other way as you can share photos, videos, websites, and almost any other medium instantly. Imagine, though, that your phone has stopped being able to access the Internet. Maybe it’s not just because the coverage has ceased to exist, but because you can’t afford the luxury of having Internet on the go anymore. Or maybe your country doesn’t have the support or bandwidth. Or maybe you get some type of backlash for taking your personal feelings and sharing them with the world on the Web and your government has decided to ban your access indefinitely.

Before you get scared, this is most likely not something you’re ever going to have to deal with — or maybe not yet. We in developed countries don’t usually think twice about not having Internet on the go as our providers force us to have data plans to even use smartphones whether or not we actually transfer data regularly over the network. If you thought about it, would you be okay if your wireless carrier didn’t force you to have a data plan anymore? Those of us with regular access to Wi-Fi hotspots likely wouldn’t even notice. Is that a fair enough trade to get out of the $25 or more monthly add-on?

However, in Pakistan, having mobile Internet is beyond a luxury. The people of that country (and many countries) don’t enjoy the easy options of mobile Internet that we in the western world take for granted. Many of them feel left out of the global discussion and probably wouldn’t even mind having access to MySpace — yes, they crave mobile Internet that badly. 17-year-old Islamia College University (in Peshawar, Pakistan) student Shehzad Khan decided that he and his fellow Pakistanis had had enough, and it was time to get their country in on the mobile Internet party. As the tri-lingual founder and head of technology at MC! Network Co., it’s not surprising that his ambitions would be realized in one way or another. His company’s SmileSMS app seems to be this realization.

So what is SmileSMS? It’s a service that allows local and global mobile phone users to freely deliver messages via SMS protocol to a social network used by other SmileSMS members — no Internet access required! The idea, which began forming back when Shehzad Khan was still in sixth grade, was to create a Facebook-like social network that could bypass the need for an Internet connection altogether. Khan estimates that the SmileSMS network can currently hold and afford up to one million users; he is already planning to expand and update the service.

As with Facebook, SmileSMS users can update a profile status and send and receive comments, but its most important feature? It allows the Internet impaired to be social and make new friends! To most of the people in Pakistan, this is extremely appealing as the government isn’t a big fan of the whole “freedom of speech” thing that many of us enjoy on a daily basis. In a place where someone who disagrees with public policy can be removed from society and imprisoned without a foreseeable release, communicating with other people over a social network is more than just a simple recreational activity — it’s a defiant (and important!) action against the state. So even if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere that doesn’t impose such draconian policies against personal expression, supporting the spirit of young and brave entrepreneurs like Shehzad Khan makes it a better world for all of us.