Powering interactive education through a simple text-based app

The San Francisco Exploratorium wanted to create a fun, interactive way to explore important issues such as resource depletion and scarcity. With the Twilio-powered TextFish messaging app, museum visitors participate in a virtual aquatic ecosystem that requires collaboration and cooperation to stay healthy.


Taught visitors key ecological concepts, such as the Tragedy of the Commons

Engaged visitors with exhibit

The San Francisco Exploratorium bills itself as a public learning laboratory where visitors can explore the world through science, art, and human perception. The museum offers hundreds of explore-for-yourself exhibits, a website with more than 50,000 pages of content, evening art and science events, and other initiatives to help children and adults become active explorers.

One of the Exploratorium’s many priorities is creating interactive content that engages people through hands-on experiences. And one of the most effective ways to do that is by using familiar tools that are already in their pockets.

Twilio Products

  • Programmable SMS


Exploring real-world challenges through interactive texting

TextFish is a Twilio-powered Exploratorium exhibit that brings art and science to life. Visitors use text messaging to take charge of an on-screen virtual wildlife ecosystem that explores issues like resource depletion and scarcity.

To start, visitors text the word “Fish” to a Twilio-powered number. A fishing boat will appear on-screen with the last four digits of the mobile number. To hook a fish, visitors simply text the word “Fish” again. The rules of the game are simple: Catch at least three fish a day to survive, but be mindful of available resources so you don’t overfish and ruin the ecosystem.

“Essentially, the dilemma we want to put people in is to balance their own desire to catch more fish than the other guy with the understanding that if too many people fish selfishly, they’re going to destroy the resource for everybody,” says psychologist Hugh McDonald, a consultant on exhibit development for the Exploratorium.


Sparking a deeper understanding of global challenges

Using Twilio, exhibit creators spark critical evaluation of everyday social interactions, such as cooperation, sharing, and competition. Visitors don’t need any special equipment to play—just their mobile phones and a healthy curiosity. In teaching the consequences of overfishing, the exhibit helps people viscerally explore concepts such as the Tragedy of the Commons while also touching on global challenges such as climate change and international conflict.

Envisioned by Bill Meyer, the Exploratorium’s director of New Media, TextFish is part of a larger project called “The Science of Sharing.”


We invite social impact organizations to sign up for the Impact Access program to receive a $500 kickstart credit and exclusive discounts on Twilio.


Create a Twilio Account

After creating an account, you’ll be directed to the sign up page.


Sign up for impact access

You’ll need to provide documentation to verify program eligibility.