About That Twitter Thing

I’ve had a number of people ask me my thoughts about the mess Twitter created for itself when it announced yesterday that it was suspending SMS services in countries other than the US, Canada and India. Alfie Dennen told me he expected to see an “Eat That, Twitter!” on the end of the title of my last post (which was “SMS More Popular Than the Internet*” for those with short memories), and prompted me to respond to his post on the matter.

My initial reaction was one of apathy, fed by the inevitable mess of what happens when the mobile world collides with that of the webhead blogger crowd. Witness this gem, titled “Twitter kills SMS service in some countries over costs. Will someone kill SMS already?”.

Just for emphasis, let’s look at that again: “Will someone kill SMS already?”

If you’re quiet, you can hear me banging my head on the desk. And I’m not the only one. Tom Hume points to a great piece at rawsocket.org with this excellent quote that sums things up for me pretty well:

Like watching an old man curse and scream at the weather, watching webheads complain about the idiosyncrasies of mobile as if they were only that – mere irrelevant idiosyncrasies – can be a test of patience.

Anyway, enough about my reticence to wade into this stuff too deeply. Alfie’s post is a good one, in which he highlights Twitter’s sorta broken (or completely invisible, depending on how generous you’re feeling) business model made this development inevitable. Also, he’s spot-on when he points out the real failure is in how Twitter handled this, by not even attempting to find a stopgap solution — ie something along the lines of “We know this isn’t ideal/is expensive/is a kludge but here’s XXX solution until we can do something better.”

But, with every door that closes, another opens — and Mike Butcher at TechCrunch UK says startups are already lining up to step into the gap and offer SMS to British Twitterers.

FWIW, I think it’s a little unfair to hold Twitter to account for a mobile operator revenue model that’s stifled tons of services over the years (not to mention all the free SMS Twitter’s sent over the past several months). But any sympathy I had disappeared quickly, in light of how they handled things. I can’t help but feel they’ve been a bit lazy in just cutting things off full-stop, without offering some sort of recourse for users who say they’d be willing to pay for SMS services.

So there’s a failure on Twitter’s side, but also a failure on the operator side. To me, the real issue is the latter, and Twitter’s just the latest victim.

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