Text Messaging May Be Slowing, but Its Problems Are Not

Carl Weinschenk
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The tide - and a big tide it is - may be turning against text messaging.

The New York Times reports on a study by analyst Chetan Sharma that suggests that the rate of increase in text emails is slowing. Indeed, in some areas of the world, Sharma found that the overall number of texts - not just the rate of increase - is shrinking.

The story cites Sharma's findings about the Philippines, where the number of texts per month is down considerably: Folks sent about 660 per month in 2010 and only 400 monthly last year. Texting in the United States still is growing, but the rate of growth is slowing. Last year, about 680 per month were sent, compared to 640 monthly in 2010. A comparison of 2010 versus previous years is not provided, however.

The Times piece and Sharma point out that people are not communicating less; they simply are finding non-text services to send text-like messages:

What's causing the shrinkage? Messaging services that you can use over the data connection of a smartphone, as opposed to the carrier's standard text messages. Apple's iMessage, Google Voice and Skype provide this service.


Even if the world of text messaging is moving from massively huge to just very very large, there still are issues in play. This is particularly important as bring-your-own-device (BYOD) approaches erode the line between personal and business. In this realm, problems experienced by consumers are by default problems experienced by their employer.

It is not surprising that the problem in text is spam? During the past couple of years, great strides have been taken in getting "traditional" spam - messages headed to the desktop - under control. There still is plenty of it, of course, but the sense of being overwhelmed has abated. Tied to that is the reality that the desktop isn't as important as it was a decade ago. The fun - and a lot of the money - is on the mobile side. The spammers follow the news, however, and it is inevitable that they would adapt to the new world.

Olga Kharif tells the story well in this Bloomberg story posted at SFGate. The bottom line is that the number of overall texts may be moderating, but the spammy ones aren't. That may mean that spam may end up with a larger percentage of the overall text pie. Kharif noted that the industry is paying attention:

In response, carriers and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission have brought suits against at least three large-scale spammers, including an FTC suit that was settled last year. The FTC charged the spammer with transmitting at least 5 million unsolicited text messages to promote products such as loan-modification programs and debt-relief services. According to the suit, the spammer sent out text messages at a rate of 85 per minute, 24 hours a day.

John Jeff Roberts at GigaOm spells an extra problem that exists in the world of spam texting that is absent in previous incarnations of spam: In many cases, the receiver suffers the extra indignity of having to pay for incoming spam texts. This is a pernicious problem that organizations must at least think about in the context of BYOD.

 

Text messaging is a great business tool. However, it comes with significant question marks. Even if Sharma's thesis is correct and that texting has jumped the shark, the problems it causes show no signs of similarly abating.



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