After taking a look at TextMarks yesterday, I poked around 3Jam a bit today. They’ve definitely gone after the adhoc group messaging end of things. The basic usage is pretty simple: send a message to a group of friends to start a “conversation” and the folks who you send to can reply to the whole group by replying to the message. Simple, intuitive, the way SMS should work anway. Kinda funny it requires a third party service. Kinda.
One interesting point of difference here is the degree of integration with the underlying SMS system and how intuitively a user can take advantage of the service. I think it all contributes pretty effectively to how viral a service can be. 3Jam seems like it would provide for a much more viral distribution. Because someone can be introduced to 3Jam by getting a message sent to them by a friend, and they can pretty intuitively use the service and discover what it does. The same thing isn’t really true about the way TextMarks is setup, unless there’s a usage in there I haven’t hit yet. Subscribing to a textmark seems to be the way to get users into a group, and that’s much more of an explicit than an implicit action.
A few services like 3Jam are out there now, I think the first I saw was the AIM via SMS setup that I first tried out on TMobile. They seem to be services implemented at the SMSC level in terms of carrier hookups. So that services get some block of shortcodes assigned to them to manage, and they can do things like assign particular shortcodes (or particular shortcode + originating handset combo it seems like) to a context so that it can be reused from one message to the next. A complex thing to have to manage just in order to get a message sent to a group of people to send a message to that same group when it’s replied to. Plus on top of that, I’m assuming getting hooked into carrier networks as an SMSC (or do you get hooked into an aggie?) is something that rivals getting a new module hooked into the space station in terms of cost and complexity. So building on top of services that provide these kinds of functions in a necessity for us mere mortals.
A lot of this stuff I’ve picked up bit by bit by trawling through the 3GPP “go ahead, just try to find something, I dare you!” specifications area (the same people who brought you the “why the fuck should I be reading source code if all I want to do is create a 3gp video?” codec source distribution) and crawling through Wikipedia. The whole situation is starting to remind me of what I’m told the early days of phreaking were like. Increasingly complex switching protocols piling up all over and getting hooked to each other. Deemed “secure” because few people knew that they existed, let alone how they worked. But all it takes is a few lucky and/or motivated individuals to discover basic flaws that require an overhaul of the whole system to correct.
On a completely unrelated note it’s amazing what you can find on the downstream side of a carrier firewall just sitting around for anyone to download if they can just guess the right URL. Kinda makes one wonder the interesting bits of info that are floating around there in other protocols. Certainly helps to explain why there was so much resistence to bluetooth tethering despite the fact that it would just increase the amount of high value data traffic flowing across carrier networks. Releasing uncontrolled devices like laptops on a network with a security model tuned for carrier controlled endpoint devices probably caused a few sleepless nights down in IT. Wonder if there’s a way to stack SMSCs.