Lessons from Twitter's SMS shut down

Summary:The news that Twitter has shut down its outbound SMS service in the UK highlights two problems with our industry: A consumer culture whereby you can't charge for something that was once provided for free (the Web 2.0 syndrome), and that Silicon Valley doesn't understand Europe.

The news that Twitter has shut down its outbound SMS service in the UK (or anywhere outside of India, Canada and the US) highlights two problems with our industry:

  1. A consumer culture whereby you can't charge for something that was once provided for free (the Web 2.0 syndrome)
  2. Silicon Valley doesn't understand Europe

While users in the UK can still update their Twitter status by sending an SMS to a dedicated UK number, they'll no longer receive updates this way. Instead, they're advised to use the mobile web version of Twitter or install a dedicated mobile client on their phone. The reason for the change in functionality is that sending out a whole bunch of SMS text messages every time a user updates their status was costing the company far too much money. The hope had been to negotiate special deals with the carriers - as they have done in India, Canada and the US - in order to continue offering this feature for free. Something that they've failed to do.

However, it didn't need to be this way, argues TechCrunch UK's Mike Butcher:

"... as a few mobile experts are starting to point out, Twitter could have charged heavy users a premium bundling package to recieve their Twitters via SMS."

If outbound SMS messages are costing the company too much money, why not just charge users for this feature? Because that would break the unwritten Web 2.0 rule which says that you can't charge users for a feature that you once offered for free. The freemium model only works because you offer users a basic service for free and then charge for additional features that you add later or charge for right from the start.

Butcher makes a great second but related point:

"In Europe there is mainstream adoption of premium SMS services so introducing charges would not have deterred too many Twitter users."

Not only do I think that Butcher is right, but I also find it particularly ironic that Twitter shuts down a feature due to cost in the very territory where they would have found least resistance to charging for it.

It's also proof that Silicon Valley still doesn't understand Europe:

"In many respects, Twitter took off in the UK precisely because it had an SMS service", writes Butcher.

"It may come as a surprise to non-Silicon Valley American’s but not everyone in Europe has an iPhone or is on unlimited data plans. SMS still rules in Europe and makes any update services far more available to the mainstream."

 Note: You can follow me on Twitter here.

Topics: Mobility, Collaboration, Hardware, Networking, Social Enterprise, Telcos

About

Steve O'Hear is a London-based consultant, educator, and journalist, focussing on the Internet and all aspects of digital technology. He advises businesses and not-for-profit organisations on how to exploit the collaborative and publishing opportunities offered by the Web, and has written for numerous publications including The Guardian a... Full Bio

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