Why I'm giving away the source code I spent my life building

Deepak Ravindran, founder of Innoz Technologies and Asia 21 Young Leader, shares why he is giving away the source code for his SMS search engine - which has made him millions and enabled millions of offline users in India, Africa and South East Asia to access the internet.

The first question people often ask me is how can SMS – an offline tool – connect an offline user to the Internet?

This is where the source code I have developed plays a key role.

Internet Now
Our flagship service SMSGYAN (now rebranded into SmartSMS) is an offline search engine – a lightweight version of the Internet - which enables users to text a query and receive a response in seconds using the source code. Working in partnership with Wikipedia and other Internet resources, our service has the answer to all of your queries.

SmartSMS has enabled users to use their dumb phone as a GPS route finder, to update their Facebook status and to send emails; in other words, they have been able to convert their dumb phone to a smart phone.

Quite cool wouldn’t you say? Yes! You actually don’t need to own a smart phone to be smart.

People in the developing countries are hungry for knowledge and quick information. But not everyone has access to mobile Internet. These people do however have mobile phones with SMS. This is all they need to connect to the Internet through our service SmartSMS.

My aim has always been to connect the unconnected – this defines my mission at Innoz – and I believe using simple and existing technology such as SMS holds the key to bring the next billion online.

Why Open Source?
Now my source code for the SmartSMS service is available for anyone to download from our website offlineinternet.org. I believe that going open source is an exciting and bold move by Innoz.

The internet continues to inspire and surprise us – so I am excited to know what unforeseen developments are in store by making the source code freely available online to the developer community and at a license cost to telecom operators. The open source move by Netscape brought us Mozilla and Chrome, inspired by this I wonder what the open source move by Innoz will bring to the developing world such as Africa and SE Asia.

I believe the move can ignite the creative energies of the entire developer community and fuel unprecedented levels of innovation in the SMS market.

All of us at offlineinternet.org believe that a connected world is important and access to information is necessary to enable individual and social transformation. Today, India is the fourth largest smartphone market with 111 million connected users. With the launch of low cost android phones, offline users who were using the SmartSMS service are now online.

By enabling leap frog access through existing offline technologies such as SMS we hope to be a key contributor in truly bringing the next billion online in other developing markets.

We now believe our Smart SMS service will be valuable to companies outside India. I have already shared the technology with Sari Software Solutions in the Philippines and with a young entrpreneur, Mo Mughal based in Africa. Telecoms providers in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Nigeria and Kenya are also interested.

The reaction to our move to make the source code freely available online has been astounding. Just a few days ago a Product Head from a Latin American Company was in touch and I have been receiving numerous emails from Software companies from Kenya, Nigeria and all over the globe.

Before going open source, Innoz has already made into the records books for becoming the largest offline search engine in the world with over hundred million users as well and billions of queries answered. Next my focus was to take this technology to African and South East Asian market where there is a need of this technology. Now with the source code freely available I think more people can join my mission of connecting the unconnected faster than I could ever have done so independently!

By giving away the source code freely, customers can benefit from world-class technology advancements and the development community gains access to a whole new market opportunity.

We know that the future is smart. But we have a long journey ahead of us before we get there – and so we are enabling those without access to the Internet to grasp hold of the future.

Look Up
While deciding to give away the source code I spent my college days building, I have recently launched a new app called Lookup – you can call it the ‘WhatsApp for business’ and enables consumers to chat with local businesses.

India has the highest shop density in the world with over 11 outlets for every 1000 people. Indian retail market is set to reach $700-$750 billion by 2015. With Lookup, the aim is to bring the power of technology into the hands of every small business owner to help them connect with customers effortlessly.

And when they are online they can look up information, chat with local stores and access services to make the lives of individuals and their communities more productive and prosperous – afterall isn’t this what we are all searching for?