I was on 5live’s Saturday Edition this week talking about apps: You candownload the Joy of Tech podcast based on the show here or Listen Again to the show here.
It was the twentieth anniversary of the text message last week. But it’s unlikely to see another anniversary of the same magnitude. Alternative messaging platforms have been stalking the simple SMS and are poised to take over — in a relatively short space of time.
Cross-platform apps like WhatsApp send SMS-style messages but over the Internet rather than the backchannels of the mobile phone system. This is cheaper, more efficient, and enables richer features (real-time chat, delivery/read receipts, integrated video/images etc) at no extra cost. As a result WhatsApp now has an estimated 250 million users (according to this Guardian piece).
But Facebook already has a billion users, and it continues to grow at a healthy rate in the developing nations (source). If Facebook can convince a sufficient proportion of us to use its new Messenger application over SMS and the other Internet-based alternatives, it could rapidly take a significant chunk of the messaging market.
In 2012 the world is likely to send around 10 trillion SMS messages. But within a couple of years that number is likely to tumble as more and more of us move over to Internet-based messaging. Facebook is likely to play a big role in this but I don’t think that is the endgame.
What the success of SMS, Twitter and WhatsApp show is that there is a value in the ability to share short text-based messages. They have a number of advantages over voice in many circumstances: they can be sent and received discreetly, they can contain rich content like web links and images, and they can be shared easily with one or many people. For these reasons, though the number of messages sent via SMS is likely to go down, the total number of short messages will continue to climb.
Initially commercial, proprietary systems will drive this growth. But after a while it doesn’t make sense to us as users to be locked into single network that may not be the one our friends choose. When short messages form a large proportion of Internet traffic, surely it makes sense to have an Internet standard for short messages? The same way we all use different services and software to send, receive and manage email but all are interoperable.
Facebook is likely to leverage its short message service for short term gain but in the long term, I believe and hope that we will all be able to chat away on an open Internet standard for short messaging.