I was surprised to see another SMS service that I hadn’t heard of, and apparently Russ was as well. But what I was paying more attention to was the original Radar post that got me to the service, which references a “How to Build an SMS Service” paper at O’Reilly Safari. I haven’t read the whole paper, just the preview snippets, but I noticed that they reference 411sync as an example way to send SMS (in the chapter “Using a Mashup”). 411sync has since shut down, not being able to find a workable model for sending out SMS messages on behalf of internet services.
I totally agree, SMS services are killer. People have their phones in their pocket all the time, they already text, it’s a real genuine asynchronous response mechanism and possibly the ultimate thin client. But the fact that SMS services pop up, get used by people outside of the normal geekery that take advantage of hacks of the sort, and then unfortunately have to get shut down cause the payment model for SMS doesn’t line up with any apps. That’s just not good. It’s going to lead to the general public getting frustrated with services and walking away from them like they did WAP the first time around.
I’ve been looking at using SMS for services, and Russ has been pulling on some threads as well. We all see the value of adding SMS messaging from the application and user experience side. But how do we make the thing work as a whole, cost to the service provider included? Everyone keeps ignoring this cost of actually sending SMS messages, running a service for a while, and then eventually getting plowed under and forced to quit.
Monetizing batches of messages with advertising I just don’t see working at all, it’s been tried a number of times before and the technical problems and user interest issues really get in the way. Across all mediums chat is one of the hardest things to monetize, it’s hard in a dedicated desktop client, damn right it’s going to be hard to do jammed onto the tail part of a 160 character message. Put that together with not knowing if the user is going to be able to click a link out of the messaging app on their phone, or even have a data plan, and it’s a hard sell to fill SMS inventory. Even when you have segmented and channeled content like sports notifications. If what you’ve got is random messages being sent between teenagers, your potential advertiser group is even smaller.
Some of the more interesting SMS “applications” are the ones that go viral. The community action or political messages that see users forwarding info to other users in order to get the word out about something. The effect of a message is multiplied there, and it’s using the social network of users not just for finding where to send the message, but also to bear the cost of transmission and spread that load around. The same thing isn’t possible if your technical hack needs to be the hub for these connections.
What if you could send virally though? What if someone using your service said “I’ll commit 100 messages every month of my 300 free messages and donate them to your SMS service.” We could either implement that as the carriers opening up their billing systems to outside marketplaces for prepaid messages and minutes…. Wahahahaha! Just kidding, they’ll never do that any time soon. Though it would be FANTASTIC for worldwide payment and mobile web billing solutions. Even I can’t dream that big yet.
How about a peer-to-peer system though? Say you were able to get a java application out on handsets that was able to multiply the leverage of a single inbound message on a command port and forward it to a number of other devices on your behalf. There’s all sorts of potential issues with response paths and making sure your app doesn’t play host to SMS botnets. But it just popped to mind and I figured I would share it. Has anyone fooled around with this out there? I can’t even get Betavine to send messages to the US yet, so I haven’t been able to test any of this out on my own.