Visual Story Network

Phonegap & lessons learned : Frontlinesms server & outdoor ad campaign Istanbul

This is the image we posted all over Istanbul this month.

Here is a rough translation: "Ya Yalnış biliyorsak? = What if what we believe is false?
"Gercek" yaz 0543 1559 gönder = text "truth" to 0543 1559. =

Here is a summary of what it took to get this off the ground:

  • A generous grant that gave us the resources to make this happen early last year.
  • We built an sms server that is prepared to send out over 10,000 sms automated messages per month using Frontlinesms and tied directly to our salesforce database.
  • We completely rebuilt, redesigned and rewrote (what if it's true?.com).
  • We created a landing page,( - which asks 'what do you see in the mirror? what do you think?'  and has just 1 button that leads to a webform before we offer the rest of the site to visitors).
  • Jim Meyer of is an amazing designer in Germany who designed and shot the brilliant image that is now on the ads and landing page. (just doing that shoot is a story in itself).
  • We ended up going with "Plan B" which means that we didn't get a 5 story ad. But we did get 2 2meter wide, back-lit ads in the metroline & 45 smaller ads in buses right behind the bus driver.

Long time VSN Mobile Ministry Discussion readers will recall my post on this project back in 2010:

This is a guy texting us a response while waiting for a train:

In terms of fruit this is what I can say (after 3 of 4 weeks)

10's of thousands saw the add while commuting through the city.

~150 page views of per day

~ 100 sms texts to 0543 1559 total

~70 uses of the QR code total

~ 40 webforms filled out total

These numbers are far short of what we were praying for over this project but then again, we've never done something like this before. And this has been the most fun project I've gotten to do during my tenure here.

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Replies to This Discussion

Thanks for the info and update on this project Paul. And thanks for doing some initial evaluation on what you are learning. 

(And I just sent the Phonegap link to my son, who is a web/mobile developer. cool stuff.)


thanks tom, let me know what your son thinks. if he has any margin/interest in distance projects, i'm always on the hunt for dev and design support. ;)

Hi Paul,

You mentioned that you received a generous grant to complete this project. Is there anyway that you can give us an idea of the cost of all of this? It is hard to evaluate the overall outcomes if one does not know the initial outlay.



Thanks Cal,

Outdoor ads vary greatly from city to city. The bulk of the cost of this project was in the renting of the ad space here in Istanbul. We initially aimed for a single 5 story ad but that was going to cost over $20k/mo, which was simply too much for 1 ad and would have blown our whole budget.

In the end we spent about $10k on the 40+ small bus ads, 10 poster sized bus ad and 2 "mega light" ads (as in the image above).

There were costs in every other aspect of the project too, but most of what we are using is open source and/or greatly discounted.

As said, not cheap, but I'm truly grateful we got to do this project and will be aiming to build on it and do others in the same sort of price range in the coming years.

Paul, thanks for sharing your learnings.

GRN is currently working on an Android App. We had initially planned to use PhoneGap, but ended up going native. I have listed below the chacteristics of using each development environment. The red text shows the disadvantages as I see them. Each mission should assess which environment is best for their app. I am not sure one approach is right for all, but purhaps time will tell. Mobile app development is still in it's relatively early days (esp. in mission).


  • Single skill set/code base to reach multiple platforms
  • Potentially lots of 'moving parts' (device specific idiosyncrasies) to take into account during development and testing
  • Limited access to device specific features
  • Some performance overheads
  • Functionality not quite the same as a native app
  • Skills required:
  • The still-new HTML5 and CSS3

  • Attributes used by PhoneGap that are used to translate the web layout for the target platform
  • JavaScript libraries employed by the environment
  • Mapping of the layout (HTML5/CSS3) and functionality (JavaScript) to the target platform
  • Use of the PhoneGap toolchain to generate the target applications
  • Debugging strategies that cross the HTML/JavaScript to device-specific boundary


  • Can design for the best possible performance - wow factor will increase it's reach
  • Access to the full suite of device features
  • Less 'moving parts'
  • No cross platform dependencies
  • Specialist coding skills required for each platform


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