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Free autodialer for gradeschool.
December 4, 2008 5:52 PM   Subscribe

Free autodialer? My son's school, which is financially challenged, used to have an autodialer to update parents on current events. This was great for the community; many parents are overwhelmed, and information isn't always timely when it comes from the kids. Also, 3 of 5 schoolbuses are being cancelled, and it would help coordinate 'walking school buses.' All participation would be voluntary. I've seen some free ones online, but originating in Moscow, McAffee-flagged, etc. Any safe suggestions?
posted by dragonsi55 to Technology (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have seen web-based API services (which I cannot find at the moment) which will dial a number and either play a recording or do test-to-speech for a couple of cents per call. Someone would have to build a front end for it though. You're looking for something PC-based to use a parent's own phone line or the school phone line?
posted by GuyZero at 6:04 PM on December 4, 2008


Using school phone lines. The school used to have an autodialer setup, but the school system 'upgraded' and then got sandbagged, with an autodialer being an expensive add-on. Not so much an issue for those schools with a well-off parent base (and parent-teacher association), but this school has one of the lowest income bases for the families, many single parents, etc.
posted by dragonsi55 at 6:16 PM on December 4, 2008


I've never heard of a school with an autodialer, so I don't know how this would be used... but wouldn't SMS messages be cheaper, simpler, and more reliable (as they don't require someone picking up or a mailbox)?

There are several service providers offering APIs for sending cheap bulk SMS, it's pretty easy to build a web frontend for them. That is, easy for someone doing PHP everyday, but should be doable for a hobbyist.
posted by uncle harold at 6:28 PM on December 4, 2008


Okay, this is helping clarify things. The school has computers which could be used for the purpose. I may not have the chops to build a frontend, but I'm sure we can find someone. From what in google-infer, it's possible to adapt SMS for folks with land-lines.

But with 500 kids, if SMS messages are about 10 or so cents apiece, it would be about 50 dollars per message group, and that would be prohibitive. I'm getting the feeling the school system didn't realize what a good thing they had at the time.
posted by dragonsi55 at 6:54 PM on December 4, 2008


You usually buy bulk credits, which should be available from 3 to 5 cents when buying 10,000-ish quantities, making it more like $20 per incident. As I understand it, time-critical stuff would only be sent in special cases where schedules change on short notice - or is this impression wrong? Then everything else could be done by Email...

That would be $400 for 20 notices to all parents, which should last at least a year if it's only for unusual events.
posted by uncle harold at 7:05 PM on December 4, 2008


Look into Phonevite.com. It's a very inexpensive VoIP solution that won't tie up any of your resources. It works out to 5c a call for the regular price, or 4c a call if you buy in quantity.

Maybe you can convince them to give you a discount since you're a non-profit. Write an eloquent letter... it wouldn't hurt.
posted by lockle at 7:17 PM on December 4, 2008


Callingpost.com is another one you might want to look into. It's about 6ยข a phone number. It also allows recording the message from your own phone without software or new equipment.
posted by Deflagro at 7:33 PM on December 4, 2008


Thanks, all. I'll take this to the vice-principal I was talking to. Any further remarks still appreciated, but as it stands I know far more than I did before.
posted by dragonsi55 at 8:10 PM on December 4, 2008


A more low-tech and more low-cost solution would be a voluntary phone tree, where each person calls say, four or five other people (pre-designated) with the message. It could be worked out with some redundancy so that one flake wouldn't black out the whole tree below him.
posted by ctmf at 9:38 PM on December 4, 2008


The school used to have an autodialer setup, but the school system 'upgraded' and then got sandbagged, with an autodialer being an expensive add-on.

The school may retain the rights to re-install the old system and use what they had before if someone has the media and knows how to set it up.
posted by GuyZero at 10:10 PM on December 4, 2008


If you can draft a local Linux guru to help, the Trixbox distro might be useful if you can find some hardware for it to run on. This is not for the faint of heart or nontechnical. You will also have to find some way to get the data out on a phone line, either through a VOIP gateway or a card that connects to a local land line.
posted by benzenedream at 12:20 AM on December 5, 2008


wouldn't SMS messages be cheaper, simpler, and more reliable

Then everything else could be done by Email...

Hey guys ... if this school district is in a very low income area, its very likely most of the parents have a land line and that's it. No cell, no home pc for email.
posted by anastasiav at 4:52 AM on December 5, 2008


What about having a "hotline" (i.e. voicemail recording) that the parents can call in to instead of having an auto-dialer call them?
posted by radioamy at 7:34 AM on December 5, 2008


The school has computers which could be used for the purpose.

Then forget SMS, web-based pay-per-call, VoIP, a new Linux box, and people-based phone trees..

You just need some inexpensive (or free) software for Windows. This type of program is used for calling at dinnertime and selling something, so it is well developed and available. I just don't have experience with one, so can't recommend one. MeFites?
posted by exphysicist345 at 2:06 PM on December 5, 2008


It should be simple but I'm having trouble googling one... anyway, another option is DialMyCalls which looks like it would be about 6 cents a call with a 15% discount for schools. Not free, but at least it would be an operating expense as opposed to a capital expense. Good luck figuring something out.
posted by GuyZero at 2:37 PM on December 5, 2008


Check these guys out: Voicent Autodialer. Make sure you have a voice capable modem on hand to dial out and play the message over analog lines.
posted by benzenedream at 4:10 PM on December 5, 2008


If you know somebody who's got linux skills, you can torture VGetty's software suite into taking care of this for you on commodity hardware, even with some sort of menuing capability (If you no longer wish to receive these calls, press pound)... Here's the modem compatability Database.
posted by Orb2069 at 1:43 PM on December 6, 2008


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