I’ve been meaning to post a recap of the Mobile Meeting last week about SMS messaging but this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and really pound it out. So this is going to be half recap from that meeting and half stuff I’ve run into since.
The first thing is that the current state of SMS messaging is really at odds with the whole Mobile 2.0 movement, something that I believe in pretty strongly. We’re starting to see more and more ecosystem evolution within mobile. Companies are able to collaborate and cooperate without having to put the formal relationships in place that used to be necessary within mobile. And some interesting mixing and mashing is happening. But being able to add asynchronous messaging support to your application still isn’t something that the average application provider can do. The cost of sending messages is prohibitive, especially if you want to provide services on a global scale.
I think this fundamental problem is one of the reasons there are some many plays aimed at making an API out of SMS in some way and taking care of the monetization for the developer:
It’s a difficult problem, but one that I hope gets cracked for good. Till there is a general globally available technique for delivering SMS at scale for a low cost I think the idea of the mobile as “an always-on device” from the point of view of a service provider is a pipe dream. If the channel doesn’t open up soon the Internet is going to route around it and replace SMS service with something that does work.
Much of the interesting stuff going on around “messaging” on the mobile actually includes SMS in a relatively small way already, at least for the way that I use it. I’m talking about apps like Jaiku, Twitter, and a feature of Flurry I just learned about today called Flurry Mobs. They’re not SMS applications, they’re communications applications that happen to offer SMS as one potential channel. You can also use dedicated applications, email, mobile web, or IM. And in my case communication is most frequently going over IM or mobile web when I’m on my handset and only occasionally over SMS. Folks like Mig33 seem to be building an install base of applications that would deal with the asymmetry of messaging styles pretty well, plastering over a lot of the differences between styles of interaction.
SMS is still a killer for person to person communication, but increasingly it’s getting cut out of or minimized for application and service usage. That’s too bad, cause it does really seem best suited to a number of notification usages. I’m seeing IM, dedicated applications, and autorefreshing mobile web pages being used more and more to work around the SMS problem though. And of course no one providing SMS services sees it as a problem, cause who cares if some crappy service that can’t even pay an SMS bill isn’t able to get messages out? There are some really major services with large user bases that fall into that bucket however, and they are going to figure out how to get their application built. SMS or not.