Making SMS Work For You -- Building SMS Actions for Drupal

At the MIT Mobile Experience Lab, we are doing a lot of interesting projects to connect people more with the places they visit, the people they know (or don't know), and information, with an emphasis on helping people while they are mobile. Since an increasing number of mobile people carry mobiles, a lot of my work has been working on ways to create connection by using a cellphone.

Lately in particular I have been working with SMS. The SMS Framework for Drupal is pretty awesome, but we needed better two-way communication. We aren't trying to just let people post to a Drupal site via SMS, we needed to be able to send commands to Drupal via SMS to trigger activity in the site and receive feedback.

I drew a lot of the design for my SMS actions from my experience working with the Services module and it functions in a very similar way. Contrib modules register their own actions (keywords which are triggered off the first word of an incoming SMS) and specify callback methods for those actions. The callbacks then process the text and can fire back responses to the user or simply just perform some action in the system.

Busy Summer

Steve and I have been insanely busy this summer so far and so we've been very quiet here lately. We are going to try to change that with some posts about what all we've been up to (when we can talk about it).

We have both been neck-deep in Drupal for the past several months. Most recently, I've been writing some custom modules and working on integration with the SMS Framework module to build a really awesome prototype system for a project here at the MIT Mobile Experience Lab. We'll be running our prototype tests later on this summer and I'll write more about what we're doing then.

Drupal BootCamp Wrap-Up and Our Top 10 Drupal 5 Modules

A few weeks ago, Steve and I organized a Drupal BootCamp here at Bradley University that went very, very well. About 40 people attended. Steve and I tag-teamed the morning sessions on how to get started using Drupal to build a simple website, step-by-step.

SWFAddress Module Updates

Yesterday Steve and I pushed through some updates to our SWFAddress module to support the new version 2.1 of the SWFAddress library and also changed it to use the new SWFObject 2.0 library. SWFAddress 2.1 brings a new and improved SEO script which works very well with Drupal. We've also fulfilled our one feature request and added support for percentage height and width for the Flash embed instead of just pixel dimensions.

With these updates we have green-lighted a stable release of our module, calling it version 1.1. We are currently working on an awesome new project in stealth mode that will be using what we're going to call version 2.x of the SWFAddress module which will support not only search engine optimized full Flash site support but also full AJAX site support too! We are super excited about this and can't wait to tell you all about it!

So if you're looking for a way to do super powerful content managed Flash, Flex, or AJAX sites, watch this space for some exciting news to come and start checking out the SWFAddress module for Drupal!

Drupal Makes Dreams Come True

One of my favorite quotes from DrupalCon Boston '08 was Leslie Hawthorne's, "Drupal makes sandwiches happen." The quote I think describes just how amazing the Drupal community really is -- people going out of their way to help other people. The past few weeks have been big weeks for me in large part due to my involvement in the Drupal community. Ever since Steve and I first spoke about Druplash at DrupalCampWI in January we have been trying our best to give back to the community by organizing and speaking at more events. This led to speaking at DrupalCon '08 about our research in Drupal-powered Flash and Flex applications. While we were in Boston, I met Claudio Luis Vera, a partner at Studio:Module, a firm working with the MIT Media Lab on a new Drupal-powered website. Claudio invited Steve and I to come with him to MIT to present some of our research, which we happily agreed to do -- because it got us a quick tour of the Media Lab which we've both dreamed about seeing.

Who would have guessed that this chance meeting at DrupalCon would start the ball rolling on some major life changes for me.

Smart(er) TinyMCE Configuration for Drupal

A WYSIWYG editor can be a blessing and a curse on a Drupal site. Give your users too much control and they'll make right-aligned, purple h1 tags inside of three levels of tables they made.

Still, users expect to be able to control basic formatting, link to nodes within their own site easily, and easily link images and documents.

With the help of four modules, you can craft a great experience for your users. I'll show you how to build this using TinyMCE, which I use on all my Drupal implementations.

Trouble editing Drupal nodes? Check your input formats!

I ran into an annoying problem today where members of a certain administrative role could not edit nodes on a Drupal site.

I checked the following:

  • The role had administer nodes, which should have given members the ability to edit any node.
  • The role had the edit foo permission and the edit own foo permission.
  • I tried getting rid of edit own foo in case it was conflicting with edit foo.
  • I reset the node_access table.
  • I emptied the cache.

Nonetheless, some nodes were editable, and some were not. Normally Drupal is very robust, and I just couldn't figure out why things were not working.

The Campaign for a Bradley Renaissance: SMS and Drupal: Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together!

This is the fourth in a series of posts chronicling the Campaign for a Bradley Renaissance kickoff gala, a mediated event in which I used Drupal to gather alumni memories and run a quiz show via SMS and display photography both on the small iPhone screen and on some giant screens via Flash.

As you'll recall from the last post, the idea of providing refurbished Nokia phones for all 120 of our tables just wasn’t going to work out. Flash Lite was too limited, Java was locked down, and the annoying modal popups triggered after using SMS or a data connection would destroy the experience, and so we turned our search to an SMS or MMS gateway.

There are several options out there for receiving text messages. You can get a GSM modem, put a SIM card in it and pull down all SMS messages sent to a certain number. This is certainly a cost-effective way to go about things, and it means that you can easily get a SIM set up for service on a local number. On the negative side, transmission speeds are pretty slow, taking several seconds per message, and the donors would have to type in a ten-digit number each time they wanted to interact with the system.

The Campaign for a Bradley Renaissance: Flash Lite, J2ME, SMS or MMS?

This is the third in a series of posts chronicling the Campaign for a Bradley Renaissance kickoff gala, a mediated event in which I used Drupal to gather alumni memories, run a quiz show, and display photography both on the small iPhone screen and on some giant screens via Flash.

As you'll recall from the last post, my students and I were tasked with building an interactive quiz and a method to collect memories from alumni and donors. We planned to buy a large quantity of AT&T Nokia 6085 GoPhones that we could preload with Flash Lite or J2ME apps.

My first practical step was to check reception in the space. Armed with my refurbished Nokia and my trusty T-Mobile Dash, I visited the giant ballroom in which this event would be held. Both my Dash and the Nokia got at least 3 of 4 bars throughout the entire room with connectivity to the EDGE network. (Verizon is the only 3G carrier in Peoria at the moment, sadly.)

The Campaign for a Bradley Renaissance: Pick Up Your Bradley Phone!

This is the second in a series of posts chronicling the Campaign for a Bradley Renaissance kickoff gala, a mediated event in which I used Drupal to gather alumni memories, run a quiz show, and display photography both on the small iPhone screen and on some giant screens via Flash.

Bradley and CaterpillarOne of the killer theatrical moments of the night - the presentation of Caterpillar's gift worth between $30 and $48 million dollars!

Almost three months ago, Jim Ferolo dropped the bomb on Matt Forcum, Harry Williams, Brett Noe and myself that we would be using our respective areas of expertise to produce the gala kickoff for the Campaign for a Bradley Renaissance. Since I am teaching a section of MM 491 on Multimedia for Mobile Devices, my students and I were tasked with building interactive portions so that our donors could interact by sending in memories, voting in a quiz show and sending in their photos. (We would later nix the photo / MMS capability.)

We expected up to 1200 guests at this event, distributed around up to 120 tables. Our first idea was to give each table a BU-branded phone, with which we could do all sorts of neat things. First, imagine the cacophony of 120 phones ringing at the same time (especially since we had planned to hide them from the guests up until that point.)

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