An Internet-based alert service that has quickly grown to encompass 4,600 public safety and law enforcement agencies now plans a move into the business arena.
Nixle has enjoyed a near monopoly on linking law enforcement personnel directly to citizens by text, cellphone, email, and the Web. Nixle’s system lets public safety agencies and local governments send secure, opt-in alerts simultaneously to residents by SMS, email, and through Web-based networks such as Twitter. This speeds communications and frees agencies from reliance on local media to broadcast alerts. Nixle launched in March 2009, and its 4,600 clients make it the largest provider of a service like this.
Part of Nixle's secret sauce is that it struck the first public networking partnership with the International Justice and Public Safety Network (NLETS). That allowed Nixle to integrate its technology into the NLETS closed-network public safety system. Nixle also houses its servers in the NLETS secure facility, ensuring security and reliability.
This is what alerts from Dallas-area public safety agencies look like online. Source: Nixle
Now, Nixle is trying to elbow its way into the highly competitive space occupied by companies such as 2ergo, mdeliver, and ILoop Mobile, which send local restaurant and shopping coupons to consumers. By creating new information channels that leapfrog traditional pathways through local newspapers, radio, or TV, Nixle has increased and sped up citizen engagement.
In Santa Fe, New Mexico, for instance, sheriff's deputies looking for a robbery suspect texted his description and mug shot. A shopper who received the text saw the suspect at Walmart and called deputies, who arrested the man after a foot chase.
In Pasadena, California, a man who received alerts of a 3-year-old boy reported missing after his father was arrested went off in search of the child and found him.
In Southern Pines, North Carolina, police sent out a photo of a suspected credit card thief. Within four hours, police had a tip that led to an arrest.
The system has been used to issue weather alerts, complete with maps from the National Weather Service. And when a storm in Las Cruces, New Mexico, took out local phones and Internet, Nixle still worked over its cellular delivery channel.
Nixle has also been used for inter-departmental communications. During the G-20 economic summit in 2009 -- a magnet for trouble -- Pittsburgh police used Nixle’s secure group text messaging to link partner agencies providing security at various events.
Agencies on the system can send alerts, less-urgent advisories, community news, and very localized information about traffic conditions. Residents can look up information on the Internet or text their zipcode to 888777 to subscribe to free cellphone alerts. Nixle uses VeriSign (Syniverse) for dedicated SMS distribution.
The service has not been without problems, however. In one case, a disgruntled former employee whose access to the system was not terminated used the system to send out bogus messages.
Still, the FBI has expressed a preference for getting the word out about unsolved crimes through Nixle because it can no longer count on the local news media to do that.
In late January, Nixle announced it is expanding into businesses with WireWords, a service that allows merchants to text coupons, instant deals, and discounts to customers who subscribe. These business alerts are meant to attract media companies, advertisers, retailers, and small and medium-sized businesses.
As Nixle expands the uses of its online network, the company likely will have to fight harder to be as successful at arresting consumers as it has been at apprehending criminals.
— Joe Grimm is a visiting editor in residence at Michigan State University's School of Journalism, and founded journalism careers Website The JobsPage.