The Mount Baker Community Club, a grayish A-frame on a winding road, boasts a prominent corkboard where folks can post announcements ranging from dog-walking services to hot-yoga sessions. At a recent Southeast District Council meeting there, Columbia City resident and marketing specialist Curtis Brown stood and told the council that the corkboard's days were essentially numbered. Brown unveiled plans for what his company, Mission Movers, claims will be the first community-owned text-messaging information system in the world.
"Rainier Valley has an opportunity not to follow somebody for once in our lives," said Brown. "Kids can use their cell phones to text message into our server and get information on where to play midnight basketball."
Similarly, if their parents are curious as to where they can get a beer and panini for supper, they would punch in "RVPpanini" or "RVPbeer." (RVP stands for Rainier Valley Passport.) Instantly, they'd receive a note back pointing them to, say, Lottie's Lounge. The same would go for other keywords, which area businesses would either purchase for a small fee or be granted free of charge if they belong to the Rainier Chamber of Commerce. Created in partnership with the chamber and Palo Alto–based 4Info, the system is in a beta test phase and needs more than $100,000 in funding before a public launch can be scheduled.
"Some people don't have computers at all, but we realized a lot of immigrant and new families almost all have cell phones," says Brown's business partner, Brian Bigelow, who lives in NewHolly. "So we realized two-way SMS [short message service] would probably be the best channel. I checked to see what sort of systems existed. We considered building our own, but the chamber was on a limited budget. 4Info was doing well, so we partnered with them."
The chamber is applying for city grants to finance the program, which would be free to use. "We'd love to see it up and running this summer," says Bigelow.