scale the medium and identify who might
be in crisis, enabling us to see a prompt if
someone needs help.
What challenges did you face
in getting there?
JB: Setting up business partnerships
takes the most time. Implementation is
mostly trivial for us.
Do you plan to integrate voice
or video calls?
JB: We have considered both and
include it in our plan to think more about
them. However, text is our primary
platform for now, given that research and
observations have shown texting is much
more private, and users tend to be more
How do you protect user data from
JB: Privacy is very important to us,
and there are two parts to it—policy and
technology. On the policy side, we ensure
all data analysis is done in-house. Any
data shared with our partner universities
for research is stripped of personally
Jason Bennett is a software engineer with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of New Mexico. He started his career as a software engineer at Motorola and rose to engineering manager at Google before becoming director of engineering and vice president of engineering at several other companies. Today,
he is CTO of Crisis TextLine, a not-for-profit organization operating throughout the U.S.
providing counseling by texting 741741. Evolving from DoSomething.org, Crisis TextLine has
grown from serving two area codes to all 295 in the U.S. Here, Bennett details the
technology behind the platform that
enables the exchange of millions of
text messages, along with the many
technical issues that arise due to scalability and user concern over data privacy and security.
The following interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
XRDS: Describe your role as C TO of
JASON BENNE T T (JB): My primary
goal is the execution of technology,
planning and delivering on software
stability, scalability, development, and
maintenance. I strive to make agile
product development better, lead
architectural discussions, and mentor
and develop the skills of my team.
Why did you choose phone text, which is
an uncommon medium for intervention?
JB: Earlier, at DoSomething.org, as
we received texts asking for help, we
recognized text is the primary means of
communication for a large segment of
the population. We wanted to reach out to
people whenever and wherever they were.
That is how Crisis TextLine actually came
What made texting more effective
compared to the alternatives?
JB: On the conscious part of the
decision, we realized there was a huge
wealth of data we received through this
medium that wasn’t available before and
that can be used to help people better.
Texting also proved more effective
because people were more forthcoming
and shared more details through text
than through other media. In some cases,
where privacy is important, text proved
to be the solution, too. For example, when
a victim of domestic violence is still in
the home and wants to seek help, texting
keeps the conversation private from the
Apart from SMS-based phone texting,
what other texting platforms are
JB: We recently integrated our
platform with Facebook; we launched our
Kik ( https://www.kik.com/) integration
earlier this year. The goal is to eventually
Crisis TextLine CTO Jason Bennett shares his insight on the
technology behind this helpline using text to reach people in need of
counseling during times of crisis.
By Rahul R. Divekar and Nidhi Rastogi
One Text at a Time