Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Texts, Teens and a Tale of Two Twitters: a Second-Go at Group Messaging

In March 2008 the Paste team made its annual pilgrimage to SXSW. I was producing three days of concerts that year and was dreading the amount of coordination required. So when Paste's tech-savvy co-founder Tim Regan-Porter suggested we all sign-up for a service that would let us text each other in a group, I was intrigued.

The service was called Twitter.

I signed-up for Twitter that day and activated it so that I could send and receive "tweets" as texts. Everyone else on the Paste staff did the same. This would allow one of us to send out a tweet via text (ex: "I need help backstage! Anyone around the venue?") and quickly reach all 10 people on staff.

This is what I expected Twitter to become: a group texting service. Why else would anyone constrain a message to 140 characters, right?

We all know the rest of the story (and had understood how important brevity would be in the Twittersphere, I would not have picked a 15-character username).

But what about that group SMS function that got me to sign-up for Twitter in the first place? Why didn't that stick?

Well, a host of new start-ups are trying to resurrect that service... only they seem a few years late to a party that no one showed up to in the first place.

In 2006 Yahoo! tried its hand at group texting with Mixd, while Twitter, Dodgeball and Zemble were also identified as promising multi-purpose SMS services by Techcrunch. Those services were either shutdown or evolved past the group SMS piece of the business model.

So what makes this the time for companies like GroupMe and Rabbly to emerge?

There's the exclusivity piece of it. All friends and followers are not created equal, so as our social networks expand, something like selective group messaging could be a valuable way to post status-like updates to only a handful of people.

Then there are the teens. I'm no longer a teenage girl, but I could see how this would be helpful in keeping up with a clique. Nielsen reports that the average American teen sends nearly 3,400 text messages a month. This group of consumers also rely less on email than their 18 and over counterparts. Not a bad customer group to go after.

There's also international markets, where SMS usage is generally higher than it is in the US.

Still, with smartphone adoption growing, and phone plans becoming all encompassing (text, voice and data for one flat fee) it could be that the new Facebook Groups or good ol' email will serve the need for the group messaging just fine (at least amongst smartphone users).

Will group SMS be the next It Thing, or is it, like, so 2006?

Discuss below, my Blogosphere friends...