American Idol gave it life, but the mobile web has killed the US text messaging star

I don’t know about you, but I don’t text as much as I used to. In fact, the list of contacts on my mobile is becoming less important than the chosen people I DM on Twitter.

It’s a cultural movement I wasn’t expecting as I used to text like a demon. Maybe I don’t have any real friends any more, maybe I’m a digital refugee who can only operate in a binary universe, maybe I should stay in more.

But it would appear I’m not alone, especially across the Millpond. Last year the US (wireless) mobile industry brought in around $9 billion in revenue for operators and content providers from text messages. This is a colossal number, but according to the CTIA mobile trade association, this number is falling, and falling dramatically.

For the first time this quarter, the number of texts sent per US subscriber fell as smartphone penetration increased and access to the mobile web proliferated. Users also seem to prefer free applications such as WhatsApp and BBM to interact with their peers. We also know they’re useful if you happen to be arranging a riot (I’m NOT btw).

America’s love affair with text messaging took a long time to ignite. I remember going to CTIA and going up an escalator texting as Americans looked at me as if I was weird. I felt like doing a twirl and intoning… cor blimey, strike a light, guv, crash-bang wallop take a picture, look what I’m doing, it’s-your-future-don’t-you-know.

It was only the wild popularity of talent show American Idol in 2004 that finally consumated the relationship and like most things, when Americans take to something they generally take over the show. Look at wars. They used to stay out until the last minute, now they’re in there faster than you can say Dick Van Dyke… or Don Cheadle.

My (remaining) American friends will see beyond the gag, but the end of the text message affair for Americans is likely to spread to the UK. Bad news perhaps for those in the business of SMS push campaigns, but a natural evolution for mobile.

This is not the death of the text message, rather the second life of mobile communication. It’a about time we engaged more interactively and doing so in more than 160 characters. I appreciate Twitter is (at least) 20 characters less, but Twitter is different, because Twitter is not constrained by those characters, it is defined by them.

Text message users always wanted more characters to interact and now the mobile web allows them to do so. Text messaging was always a hodgepotch solution, rather like Ceefax on the TV and just like that strange medium, only emphemeral.

So the text message is dying and it is Americans who are killing it first as they have always loved the internet, fixed or mobile. I think that’s a good thing, it’s time we all grew up anyway.

Monty (632 Posts)

Monty Munford has more than 15 years' experience in mobile, digital media, web and journalism. He is the founder of Mob76, a company that helps tech companies raise money and exit. He speaks regularly at global media events with a focus on Africa, writes a weekly column for The Telegraph, is a regular contributor to The Economist, Wired, Mashable and speaks regularly on the BBC World Service.


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About Monty

Monty Munford has more than 15 years' experience in mobile, digital media, web and journalism. He is the founder of Mob76, a company that helps tech companies raise money and exit. He speaks regularly at global media events with a focus on Africa, writes a weekly column for The Telegraph, is a regular contributor to The Economist, Wired, Mashable and speaks regularly on the BBC World Service.