Swarmteams: communicate like animals by SMS

Swarmteams is a service for group communication that integrates multi-recipient SMS, IM, RSS and VOIP. While there are many companies launching that focus entirely on group SMS alone, Swarmteams is the most ambitious system I’ve seen yet for rapid multi-person communication. The company says it’s tried to mirror the natural swarming behavior of animals in designing the system. Unfortunately, in the testing we did – our animal instincts were left frustrated. We felt more like a mob of donkeys than a well co-ordinated flock of soaring birds. In other words, the system doesn’t seem to work very well yet. I hope the system will improve with time because I think the company has some great ideas.

Based in Belfast, Ireland, the six person team says it’s just started accepting payment for paid accounts, which are required after a group sends its first 50 messages. Messages are 10 cents apiece, which could get expensive, but if you use a service like this only when it’s important the price may be fair. That’s presuming it works, of course, which so far it does not – at least not for myself and the several people I tested it with. If the following functionality sounds valuable to you, perhaps you can take the time to make it work better for your group. I think the service is a very good idea. We tested the basic level of service, there are also pro levels and an API.

Swarmteams groups can communicate together by SMS messages that go out to everyone and are archived on a web page that publishes an RSS feed. Group communication can be received by IM or email and administrators can set up a group Skype call with a single click. All of these different passages for communication can be set to various permission levels for different users by the group’s administrator. Within their permission level, individual users can request message delivery through any or all of the available means (SMS, IM, RSS and email).

No downloads are required for web or mobile use of the system. Group members don’t have to do anything but confirm their participation in the group in order to receive and respond to messages. An admin can manage multiple groups, or swarms, through a tabbed interface.

Supported IM systems so far are MSN, Skype and ICQ. The implementation could use some changes here and there; when I send a message out to the group by web interface I don’t want to get a copy of it myself by SMS, for example. One of our test users couldn’t accept her invitation by SMS and she should have been able to. Sending files didn’t work well at all, it took quite a long time for messages to be received, Skype IM messages never worked for us and it was a generally frustrating experience to test Swarmteams out.

That said, groups interested in putting this to serious use may be able to take the time to make it work. The feature set looks great, even if it’s not the most intuitive thing to use the first time. I hope that it will be fixed, as I can imagine that any number of groups could find it quite useful for rapid interaction. Our coverage of the Apple “It’s Showtime” event last week, for example, would have been a great time to have group SMS and IM integrated in a web service.

Other, related services that offer similar features include MXit and Nimbuzz.