Happy Birthday SMS and a few thoughts on what wins


Pic c/o HAZ.de

Today it's 20 years since (the company that became Vodaphone) sent the first SMS "text" message (c/o a young engineer Neil Papworth, above), "Merry Christma" [sic].

Lots of noise in the news (read this text interview) and on the wires today about this anniversary* and lots of good commentary around the unexpected success of this technology (although much of the US steadfastly refused to adopt it for a number of years…).And much sense spoken about it…e.g.

Glyn tweet re sms copy

It's hard to imagine not having access to this technology and hard to
underestimate its importance and not just to teenagers – I remember teaching my own late mother
who spent a decade in a wheelchair to text and it connected her to the
outside world in all kinds of ways (this is also the origin of my "#chocsawayalgy tweets, btw).

For me, several things stand out the success of this technology:

1. SMS was not the best technology then and isn't the best now – we tend to assume the best will win or (after the fact) equally that the winners must somehow be the best

2. Rather, if you wanted to be pseudo-Darwinian about it, you might suggest SMS was the fittest that it was most suited to the context – cheap, short, flexible, etc – ideal for economically-challenged young folk who desperately want to interact with each other, all the time.

3. This would imply that the mobile telco's just misunderstood the reality of the consumer context and presumed that the high-spending customers (business folk) – that is, people more like how they saw themselves – would necessarily be the key adopters of new technology (a mistake we've all seen lots of times).

4. However, you could also see the relative lack of importance of a superior product as strongly  indicative of a socially-led adoption – these technologies are undoubtedly spread this way, aren't they? Indeed, the lack of marketing input to drive adoption (until the telco's had woken up to the scale of the adoption and that very late in the day) supports this point of view.

So if you're thinking about technology of any sort and how to spread it, ask yourself:

a. does it have to be the best to win?

b. is it the people like you that are really going to drive success?

c. how can you help them to help you spread it?

In other words have a good look at HERD and IHWSH again…


*BTW have a look at this 10th anniversary review…

1 Comment

  1. kanwal
    March 8, 2013

    Thanks For Sharing