Technology 101: Short Message Service (SMS)- Dead or Alive?

by Oluwatobi Soyombo

In case you missed it, SMS clocked 19 years old on Saturday, 3December, 2011. As a quick fact, “the first SMS text was sent over the Vodafone GSM network in the United Kingdom in 1992”. SMS has been a crucial tool of effective communication over the past 19 years. Over 3.05 billion phones out of the about 4 billion phones in the world are SMS enabled.

In recent times, arguments like the above have been enjoying the attention of technologists across the world. While some say that SMS is dead, another group of technology elites believe strongly that the technology is here to stay. Who’s right? That’s the onus of the piece.

Apps such as WhatsApp, Nimbuzz, 2Go and the likes are also taking over from SMS. All these technologies are gradually reducing the use of SMS in communication

SMS has been a great source of quick, cheap and efficient means of information dissemination. Many Nigerians today have benefitted greatly from the potency of this technology. It has allowed many stay close to their loved ones. In fact, it even became a money spinner for many. Just a couple of months ago, one of the big things in town was to own a bulk SMS website, next was SMS marketing. Numerous churches have been able to stay in touch with their congregation more effectively than before (especially with the recent popularity of Bulk SMS platforms). The truth just remains that the benefits of SMS cannot be over emphasized.

However, the eruption of “more” modern technologies is gradually shifting all attention off SMS. Innovations such as the numerous Social Networking platforms are becoming the next alternative to SMS. Actually, Social Media is already the big thing in town, except if you live in another world. Platforms such as Facebook, twitter and many others have actually influenced the way people communicate with one another. One of the many ways Social media has changed the way we communicate is on the issue of text messaging. We now live in a world where more people are beginning to find it easier to “ping” and tweet to their friends instead of simply sending a SMS.

An individual who used to send an average of 10 SMS per day now sends far below that figure today because of twitter and Facebook. “Tim” only sends SMS to a few of his friends who don’t belong to any of these platforms yet. He’s not spoken to one of his friends for the past 10 months.  “I’ve never even texted him in 10 months but we’re very close.”  So, how has Tim been able to stay close to his friend? Tim said he sent Facebook messages and he replies almost instantly, sometimes they even chatted for hours.

 Andrew Warner, the Founder of expressly stated on his website that he passionately hates phone correspondence (that includes voice calls and text messaging).

The truth is that Social Media is gradually killing the already ageing Short Message Service. Asides the above argument, another signal to this coming revolution is the fact that custom made phones are gradually finding their way into the market. In November, Orange announced the introduction of their Facebook phone in Africa. Asides that, phones such as HTC ChaCha have dedicated Facebook buttons. As if those are not enough, Facebook itself is rumoured to be introducing their official Facebook phone called “Buffy”. Very soon, we might see manufacturers making phones either strictly built for social media or have deep Social Media Integration (there are some already, though).

Furthermore, Network providers in Nigeria are also rolling out special packages to their customers who are highly interested in Social Media. Etisalat for instance, recently announced free Facebook access for 30 days or so to their customers. Phones such as Blackberry (through its native BBM) and iPhone (via iMessage) are also signals to this revolution. Apps such as WhatsApp, Nimbuzz, 2Go and the likes are also taking over from SMS. All these technologies are gradually reducing the use of SMS in communication. Though, there’s still a long way to go.

To build a case for the short continuity of text messaging, I must admit that it’s not dead yet (but dying!). Considering that not everyone has said YES to Social Media, SMS will tarry until Social Media is probably fully adopted. It is also worthy of note that “Text me” is still more popular than “Tweet me”, at least in Nigeria.

Till Next Week, Keep Evolving!

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