User Generated Short Codes

When I was in The Valley last week, I met the charming veteran entrepreneur and angel investor, Ariel Poler, who gave me a demo of his new venture, TextMarks. He asked me to keep schtum for the time being, but he’s just dropped me an email giving me the OK, so here’s my thoughts.

To be honest, my first reaction was “Oh no, not another American Company offering sms short codes to advertisers and thinking that 1. This is new 2. Advertisers were going to fall over themselves to integrate this into their advertisements 3. that similar products have been around for 2 or 3 years in Europe and haven’t worked there either, can be ignored. But having spent a few minutes on the site and chatting to Ariel, this is far from the case and I think what they’re doing is very cool indeed.

Mechanically, TextMarks allows you to go to their site and reserve a keyword or words. You also type in the response you want to send out when people send that word in. Then, when that word is sms’d to 41411, the sender gets back the message you want them to. Very simple – and it’s all free for the time being.

So, as an example, if I want to point you to a post I wrote yesterday on your mobile phone, I could ask you to key in this rather long URL http://mobhappy.com/blog1/2006/08/22/what-should-friendster-do-now/. Or I could ask you to sms MOBH to 41411 and get the link sent to your phone.

One of the neat things about it is that when you’re setting up your keyword/s, the platform allows you to instantly see if the word is available. So, while I type M then O then B, the message says that the word is too short. Then with the H, it suddenly says it’s available. If I was to continue with A, P, P, Y, it then becomes unavailable (I bagged the MobHappy key word too). This is a nice usability feature.

So far, it’s a nice, usable site, but there are other players on both sides of the pond doing similar things. But what sets TextMarks apart is that they are squarely aimed at the consumer User Generated Content angle – not the more obvious B2B advertiser route that everyone else goes after. Their thinking is that they don’t know how people might find this useful, so let’s launch the tool into the wild, give people a few ideas and then sit back and see what they come up with. This strikes me as being a very wise approach, as I’d bet good money that what people end up using this for, won’t be what we might think.

How would you use it? Leave a comment below if you come up with something interesting.

So far (and it is only a few weeks old) people have used it in some cool ways. This blogger is currently travelling in the Arctic Circle and her readers can find out where she is every day by texting wheresdiana to 41411. There’s a restaurant where regulars can subscribe (the site allows subscription, as well as one off responses) to get details of daily specials, or you can get Amazon’s price for a book by sending in the ISBN.

If you’re selling a car, you could put eg FordFocus as a keyword and send people pricing and mileage details. Or put a key word of the address of the house you’re selling on the For Sale board, so people can text for further details, including pictures, available on a wapsite you create.

Potentially the list is endless and we’re only bound by the limits of our imagination.

One of the aspects that fascinates me about mobile is where the phone becomes the link between the real world and the digital one – a virtual mouse, if you like. This application is one way of realising that idea today, in a very practical, simple and usable way, which is available to everyone – or US mobile users for now, anyway.

I think we’ll see some really interesting use cases come out of this, from both “real” users, as well as when the art community starts experimenting and it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.

[tags] textmarks, shortcodes, 41411, amazon [/tags]

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