What would your answer be if I asked you for the most commonly used data service in the world? Just a subtle hint – I have used exactly 160 characters thus far.

It was twenty-seven years ago that the first text message was sent.

Now text messaging – or more accurately Short Message Service messaging – is the most popular data service in the world. With good reason. Text messages have an open rate of 98 per cent and a response rate of 45 per cent. By way of comparison, e-mail has only a 20 per cent open rate and 6 per cent response rate. It is a large number – but probably not that surprising then – that there are currently 23 billion text messages sent on a daily basis across the world.

It is fair to say that on 3 December 1992 when Neil Papworth sent that first text message, “Merry Christmas”, to Richard Jarvis, a director of Vodafone UK, that neither Neil or Richard would have possibly predicted how invasive text messages would become in our daily lives. In the initial design of mobile phone networks background data is exchanged between a phone and a mobile phone tower using the control channel. It was in later development that the idea of using this control channel to exchange a text message was investigated – hence the limitation of 160 characters.

One of the huge advantages of text messages is that you can send and receive a text message to any other person regardless of their handset or carrier or location. Other message services allow more content and may use different tools but you are relying on the receiver to have the same message service. The latest smartphone that has every feature imaginable can still send a text message to your luddite friend that is using a mobile from the last decade.

That is one of the reasons that so much development has occurred around text messages. Organisations from medical professionals to hairdressers and everywhere in between now send text messages as reminders to clients for appointments – with the ability to confirm the appointment in reply. Online contests are also a popular usage of text messages – but just be wary of the potentially hidden costs. Many shows have been created around the concept of the public voting for their favoured contestant using real-time text messaging. The TV executives love it as it allows them to gain instant feedback on viewer numbers and engagement and the viewers feel involved in the contest.

As we move into a world of smart home automation, text messages are being used to interact with various devices around the home. Many devices use SMS for notification of events (front door was opened) or allow you to trigger events (open the front gate). Smart cars can also be used in a similar way with some cars able to text the owner if a car goes over a certain speed or outside a pre-set range. Fantastic when you give your car to your teenage child (not speaking from experience here). These text messages are given the term ‘tattle text’ for obvious reasons.

If you fancy yourself as a fast texter, type the following phrase on a touch-screen phone with no predictive features turned on: “The razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human.” If you can do it in under 17 seconds, there is place waiting in the Guinness World Records for you.

TYSM for reading BRB next week C U L8R MSG me @ ask@techtalk.digital.

Mathew Dickerson

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