MIT graduate student Stephan Boyer’s girlfriend lives some 3,000 miles away in a not-so-safe neighborhood of San Francisco, and she would frequently ask him to check in with her on her walk home to make sure she got home OK.
While it’s an easy enough buddy system, Boyer thought there must be a better, more efficient way to do it. The 23-year-old computer science student looked into smartphone apps that were available, but was unsatisfied with what he found.
“All I could find were apps that required action from the user when trouble happened and I find that unrealistic,” he said. “When you’re being mugged or whatever, you don’t have the luxury to pull out your phone and send an alert. I decided to build a service that flips the problem upside down so inaction triggers the alerts.”
In late January, Boyer set forth to build a better solution, and by early February, he launched Kitestring, a free web-based service that sends text alerts to your emergency contacts if someone fails to respond to a check-in prompt.
Kitestring allows its members to set up the check-in texts before going out at night — whether you’re taking an evening jog by the Charles or meeting a date offline for the first time — and set the time frame you want the service to ping you. A text is sent at the chosen time and if you fail to check-in, a message will be sent to your list of predetermined emergency contacts alerting them that you were unable to respond. The service doesn’t use GPS tracking or provide a direct line to 911, so it’s recommended that you include some details about your estimated location or who you planned to meet in your pre-written message to your emergency contact list.
Boyer said he created Kitestring with women who found themselves commuting through locations where they felt were “uncomfortable or dangerous” in mind, but he has seen a response from people from a variety of demographics and use standpoints.
“Right now we have almost 30,000 users,” said Boyer — a tremendous feat for a program just launched a few months ago. “It’s blown me away.”
Next steps would be to find funding to make the project sustainable. “Right now I’m paying for the SMS messages out of cost,” he explained and noted he’s looking into a paid subscription option for users as a possible solution.
As for the name — it’s as simple and endearing as the concept and its origin: “My friend suggested it to me and it resonated because it’s poetic in a way. Kites are almost universally a positive image and a kitestring allows the kite to do what it needs to do, but at the end of the day, you can reel it in like a safety net.”