Idea: short-term unified group messaging enterprise

I was driving for 6 hours the other day and my wife was asleep, so what does one do: work out the details for a new kind of hosted communication service in my head.

If you are a user of AirBNB, you might have noticed that when you get messages from your hosts in the app, you also get an SMS/text with (the first 140 chars) of the message. The number you get it from, is not the phone number of the host. In my case it was more often a US number. So I started thinking: how does this work? Obviously this is not a phone number per customer, since that would be impossible/unaffordable. If they use N phone numbers to send these messages, when someone replies, how do they know who to forward the message to? It’s not rocket science.

A typical user has one ‘current’ transaction with AirBNB (i.e. ‘where do I sleep tonight?’). If that user (whose phone number we know) sends a message, we know it is concerning that transaction. In the worst case the person stays in a different AirBNB place every night, and you want the group chat to be available 2 weeks before until 1 week after the transaction. That can be managed with 21 different phone numbers. For the hosts that manage several apartments or rooms, they might have up to 100 group chats that are active at the same time. Still, 100 different phone numbers, that’s still doable.

So then I thought, what if you would have a service that allows any company to do this? They want to set up a temporary group chat with different channels (their own app, email, SMS, WhatsApp, Messenger, …) but not manage the details. So that idea crystallised into a short-term unified group messaging enterprise – STUGME.

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Idea: Extended MRTG format

Every tech geek has his/her preferred tools and one of mine is without doubt Tobi Oetiker’s MRTG (Multi Router Traffic Grapher), which I’ve used to make pretty trend lines of much more than routers or traffic.

MRTG is a Perl program that grabs some measurement values (typically via SNMP) and plots them as time series. It creates ‘daily’, ‘weekly’, ‘monthly’ and ‘yearly’ graphs and the HTML page that shows the graphs and some min/max/average statistics to accompany the graphs. You’ve probably seen the typical MRTG output images before:

Example of MRTG

But MRTG can do more than just SNMP. In fact MRTG can plot any trend, as long as it gets its input in the form of 4 text lines:

[I value]
[O Value]
[server name]

The I value becomes the green bar graph, the O value becomes the blue line, and the rest is only used to generate the following line in the generated HTML pages:

The statistics were last updated Tuesday, 13 October 2015 at 10:40, at which time ‘[server name]’ had been up for [uptime].

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