Kitestring is a new SMS based "safe call" service developed by Stephan Boyer. The idea behind Kitestring is simple but brilliant; before venturing out you can instruct the service to send a text message to your chosen emergency contact if you don't check in after a certain amount of time. The concept is so simple and incredibly useful that it is surprising with the wide variety of personal safety apps available for smart-phones, none hit the mark as neatly as the SMS based Kitesting.
Mr. Boyer was kind enough to give us some time to talk about himself and Kitestring -
Somnambulant Gamer: Could you tell our readers a little about yourself?
Stephan Boyer: I'm a Master's student in computer science at MIT. I grew up in California and first started building software when I was 11 years old. When not engineering software or studying computer science, I'm often making music with my piano, guitar, or voice. In particular, there is a big sweet spot in my heart for a cappella music.
SG: Could you walk us through what Kitestring does?
SB: Kitestring is a very simple SMS-based service. When going out, you start a "trip" on Kitestring by texting the service a duration like "45m" indicating how long your trip will take. When your trip ends, Kitestring will check up on you via text message. If you don't reply to the message within 5 minutes, Kitestring will text the emergency contacts that you set up beforehand. Kitestring is flexible—you can always check in early or extend your trip. It's free and works on any phone.
SG: What prompted you to build Kitestring? Was there a specific event?
SB: Sometime in January, my girlfriend was walking home from work one night and asked me to check up on her (she made it home safely). It immediately occurred to me that I could build service to check up on everyone. So I got to work and launched on.
SB: In general, the feedback has been extremely positive. The service went viral in April, and there was one week where over 20,000 people signed up. I often get emails from all kinds of people—mountain hikers, real estate agents, the elderly, college students, the online dating community, military spouses, etc.—explaining how they use the service in various ways. People have been very vocal on Twitter and Tumblr about how important Kitestring is to them. Users have also been very helpful in providing feedback and feature suggestions, and some of Kitestring's features (e.g. duress codes) are the brainchildren of its users.
SG: Are there any additional features that you would like to implement?
SB: There are a few features that I'd like to implement, but there are some roadblocks to be overcome along the way. For example, the most popular feature request is location tracking. Since Kitestring is an SMS-based service (and not a native app), we don't have access to any GPS data from the users' handsets. One obvious solution is to make a native app, but that requires time and elbow grease that there hasn't been time for (yet). Another feature that I'd like to build is some kind of "recurring trip" mode that checks up on you according to some schedule (like once every 30 minutes, or once every day) rather than just one time when your trip ends. It would be trivial to build, but then our SMS bill would grow faster than our budget allows. Our biggest expense, by far, is the cost of sending SMS messages.
SG: Is there anything I haven't asked that you would like to tell our readers about?
SB: I just want to clarify one common point of confusion: Kitestring is not an app—there is nothing to download. It's a service that operates via SMS (so you don't need a smartphone to use it). Many articles about Kitestring encourage readers to "download the app", which results in my inbox getting flooded with emails from confused users. So I prefer that when people talk about Kitestring, they refer to it as a "service" rather than an "app".