Alerts can be big business

There are a lot of trends coming together that make alerts and the networks that might support them into an opportunity. We should start off by trying to put our arms around the category alerts – because actually it’s a quite broad category. At the most “serious” or “official” level alerts could include the Department of Homeland Security/FEMA’s recently proposed new national security alerting system which will utilize public television, SMS and other means to rapidly get broad scale alerts out to the public quickly during times of natural disaster, terrorist attack or other national security events.

There are a lot of trends coming together that make alerts and the networks that might support them into an opportunity. We should start off by trying to put our arms around the category alerts – because actually it’s a quite broad category. At the most “serious” or “official” level alerts could include the Department of Homeland Security/FEMA’s recently proposed new national security alerting system which will utilize public television, SMS and other means to rapidly get broad scale alerts out to the public quickly during times of natural disaster, terrorist attack or other national security events.

Within the private sector category (with some government data partnership) is the launch this summer of WeatherBug’s Smart Notification Weather Service. Developed in concert with Send Word Now (a “notification service” specialist) the Smart Notification Weather Service ties together WeatherBug’s existing PC- and Internet-based weather reporting network (which includes a network of over eight thousand WeatherBug meteorology tracking stations throughout the country), National Weather Service alerts, and WeatherBug’s own “in-house” alerts into a location based delivery mechanism. The result of this effort is a real-time system that can analyze weather trends, issue warnings and alerts based upon an internal set of rules and policies, and then deliver these notifications to users in the relevant geography. The initial launch of this service was timed to begin with this summer’s Atlantic hurricane season – and it has attracted users from a variety of categories such as local governments, retailers and individuals.

To us the really interesting part of the WeatherBug system is the “mashup” of several disparate elements (the WeatherBug tracking stations, government alerting systems and public wireless voice and messaging networks) into something truly useful and new.

But alerts don’t need to come from the government, and they don’t need to be matters of life or death (like tornados and hurricanes). Obviously most IT industry folks are familiar with alert systems related to their day jobs – pages, e-mails and text messages tied into network and server status, and the like. But an alerting network can be even more prosaic – yet more useful to people’s day-to-day lives than that.

For example, you could easily imagine community alerting systems for things like school schedules, local events, sports team calendars, community meetings and the like. Even more private events or actions like a school carpooling calendar or a Cub Scouts phone tree could be part of an alert system. Almost any activity or community of interest could be enhanced by some sort of alert or communications system.

The true value comes from a provider who can tie together multiple communities of interest – based on criteria like location or simple “opt-ins” from members of the community. A provider who could offer the “back-end” glue that ties alerts from disparate groups together can offer a great increase in the usability and usefulness of such a system. Because let’s face it, many individuals have too many alerts coming from too many places today to make them easy to manage or truly useful (how many inboxes are cluttered with eBay notifications, movie listings and other such alerts?).

Why develop individual alerting networks from scratch? More importantly, why make users go through the process of “subscribing” to them for each area of their lives or business which may require alerts. A smart service provider could provide a unified and customized alert portal for all the alerts that a customer might wish to subscribe.

Preferences could be global (like “always send an SMS”) or customized (like “send an SMS for school closings” but “send an e-mail for a change in the soccer game time”). It’s easy to envision an alerting system becoming a portal into a wide range of activities and events, all customized for the individual user.

Location and context awareness plays a part here too – and is where a service provider can offer additional value. The usefulness of an alerting system increases exponentially if it is “smart” enough to change what kinds of alerts are delivered based upon where the user is and what they are doing (for example, change a voice alert to a text alert if the user is on the phone, or has selected “do not disturb”).

The bottom line here is that consumers and businesses have a multitude of things to be alerted about, ranging from “the sky is falling” to “practice is cancelled.” Today there’s no one-stop shopping that allows them to set up these alerts, customize them and organize them in a truly useful way. A smart service provider can swoop in and provide this service, and insinuate themselves in people’s day-to-day lives in a very sticky way.

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