Don't Ignore The Least Common Denominator

There's been a healthy debate of late about whether mobile apps are a long term business or whether web apps running on mobile devices will ultimately win out. It's an important debate to have and while I favor mobile web apps, the current state of mobile technology and connectivity certainly favors the mobile app in the short term.

But lost in all of this debate is the least common denominator – sms (or texting as it is know in the mainstream).

I believe that Twitter's native implementation of sms is an important part of its success. The 140 character limit was driven by the 160 character limit of sms and the initial design of the service put sms compatibility up there near or at the top of the system requirements. Other competitive services, including Facebook, are just not as natively available via sms the way Twitter is.

Of course most people access Twitter and Facebook and other web services via mobile web interfaces and apps. I don't know the current percentages but I think something less than 15 percent of Twitter updates are posted via sms. And the number of people following via sms is also relatively low.

But I think it is critical, particularly early on in the commercialization of a mobile web service, for there to be an easy and quick sms interface. It allows potential users to see the value of the service without having to download anything. And it is always faster to shoot out a text message than load a mobile app or a mobile web page.

And the onboarding experience can also be easier via sms. Jack Dorsey, who built the first version of Twitter, showed me the easiest way to sign someone up for Twitter a few years ago. He said 'when you want to get a friend on Twitter just tell them to send "follow fredwilson" to 40404'. For those of you who don't know, 40404 is the Twitter shortcode in the US. I've used Jack's approach dozens of times since then.

I've been playing Foursquare lately and I blogged about it last week. I check in most of the time via sms. Many people who play foursquare don't know you can do that. It's fast and easy. Much faster than loading the iPhone app and checking in.

I don't know if you can sign up for Foursquare via sms (like you can with Twitter) but it would be great to be able to do that. Let's say you are at dinner with friends, you sit down and do a Foursquare check in via sms. Your friends might ask you what you are doing. And you show them and they then do the same thing. That's virality and friends showing friends is one of the best ways to get mobile web apps to spread.

So while its true that serious mobile web services require mobile apps and good mobile web interfaces to deliver real engagement, it is also true that you should offer a simple, easy, and fast sms interface. Its the least common denominator, its on every cell phone out there, and it will help you build your user base.

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Comments (Archived):

  1. disqus_JOusu9oR2t

    Very valid point, Fred, but I think there is more to it:Finding the lowest common denominator is a make-or-break for any service that relies on virality and connectedness. The main problem with most mobile social initiatives is just that: most are built for one platform/device and fail on that front.Case in point: manual input of location is the lowest common denominator in location-aware applications but many still failed to gain traction (Dodgeball while not a failure wasn’t the success it could have been)(Disclaimer: I am one of the founders of Locle)Because of the cost of SMS in Europe, the real ‘lowest common denominator’, for location-aware applications is cell-ID (we can extract it off 70% of GSM handsets, using native code).In our case, the ‘lowest common denominator you can charge for’ (SMS) becomes the delivery channel for a premium service, not the technology the service is based on.We believe we have an interesting revenue model for it.

    1. fredwilson

      I agree that cell tower location is the LCD for geo

    2. ShanaC

      When is there a situation where you would want to not use the LCD, especially with geotagging?I ran a daytest of Foursquare here: (some of the things I did were mentioned, some not). – what makes Foursquare in some ways very unusual was that it currently lacks geotagging, despite being a Geographic game of where are you.Beyond that manual entering data is hard (I didn’t notice it at the time, this is looking back), geotagging as an LCD runs some risks and rewards for data and intelligence. I’m upbeat in the review- but, beware of too much geotagging.

  2. kevinmurphy

    i thought you were on vacation : )

    1. fredwilson

      I am. I wrote that on my bberry in flight from paris to stockholm

  3. barakkassar

    yup…u make sense! the operators (who should have a reasonable concept of where money in mobile is, at least today) talk about the pyramid of services… the further down you go you have less tech.. maybe lower ARPU…but you have lots (lots!) more U(sers)… and with global perspective … more global than silicon valley/alley or more global than u.s…. this is very important.

  4. William Mougayar

    Yes, that’s a great observation. At its stripped down level, Twitter is peer-to-peer system (and a powerful one). It’s this solid foundation that’s allowing it to prosper and evolve. I used to follow the P2P market diligently in 2001- there were close to 100 companies in the “P2P space”- most aren’t here anymore, as they either focused on the wrong apps or didn’t have the proper foundation (common denominator) in place.

  5. Ben Atlas

    That’s it, Europe has gotten to your head! But back here in America SMS is still stifled by the carriers as an extra service. In fact the success of Twitter (and others) is because the mobile service does ‘SMS’ without the extra charge. I am not sure that you know SMS used to be included in the data plan that ATT forced you to get with the iPhone ($30). They have now made SMS an extra in addition to the data plan.

  6. Michael Dizon

    Sounds like someone wants to invest in foursquare 🙂

  7. bombtune

    I think it’s the same argument as mobile native apps versus web integrated apps, we’ll use both depending on convenience and ultimately the type of response or awareness we’re trying to achieve.

    1. fredwilson

      Right. We need as many ways to engage as possible

  8. falicon

    I really like the tip on using SMS to get people to join Twitter…it also seems like a great way to get people involved in things built on top of Twitter…when a friend asks what I’m doing I can just say “I’m playing fantasy baseball…if you want to play just text something like ‘Mets #win @gawkit’ to 40404″…very very cool. Thanks for marketing/viral the tip!

  9. peteringram

    I COMPLETELY agree with your thought. While smart phone apps are cool and the long-term Holy Grail of marketing, dumb phones will still comprise 67% of handsets out there by 2013. If a company’s mission is to reach the masses, the dumb phone must be taken into consideration. That speaks to SMS/MMS.

  10. billc124

    On my iPhone 3GS, it takes me the same amount of time to post something to Twittter via Tweetdeck as it does to do so via SMS. As phones get faster, the mobile apps load as fast as the native apps on the phone.

    1. fredwilson

      that’s good to hear. do you feel that the mobile web (m.twitter or another mobile web site) loads as fast? i’m curious about the mobile web vs mobile app tradeoff.

      1. billc124

        No, I don’t feel that the mobile sites load as fast. It takes too long for the web browser to render the page for me. A mobile app loads faster since there is no interface to render. That kinds of lends credence to your SMS point, it is faster to use a mobile app or SMS then it is to do anything that requires a browser.I am curious to see if the Palm Pre makes things different since the apps are kind of a combination of the two.

        1. Tom Limongello

          Actually, the iPhone 3GS loads mobile websites much much much faster. Even though twitter’s mobile website is behind the times, if they upgraded to an iPhone optimized site it may even load faster than the basic xhtml version of Apple told us that the 3GS processes javascript 3x faster and you can really see that on sites that are optimized for the iPhone.However, I’m thinking Fred that you were inspired to write this because SMS is the cheapest way to update sites while you’re in Europe, no? This was what I found when I was in China back in May, I hadn’t used Twitter’s 40404 shortcode to send out a message in probably a year (but I still use it to get DMs). Flat Data plans are about as American as Apple Pie. 🙂

          1. billc124

            You make valid points, but it is easier to just open Tweetdeck and hit the new tweet button. By the time I open Safari, open my bookmarks because I don’t want to clutter my iPhone home screen with direct site links and load the page, I could have sent two tweets with Tweetdeck. I agree, sites optimized for iPhone are way better. I think it just comes down to the way you like to do things as with anything, but to me, a mobile app will always be better then a mobile website even on the iPhone’s awesome web browser.

          2. fredwilson

            Its not a europe thing though I understand why you’d think that. I use sms all the time in the US. I like the command line interface and the speed of it

  11. Venkat

    I might seem like a luddite, but I just returned my blackberry storm after 10 days of use and went back to a very simple non smart phone (actually even simpler looking than my previous one, the razr).I think a lot of people are becoming more demanding of phone user experiences these days like me, and smart phones (even the iPhone… I use the the touch) aren’t designed well enough to be really pleasantly usable. So I am waiting another year or two. So in the meantime, SMS will continue to be big… not just among luddites, but among people who COULD learn to use smartphones but don’t think they are worth the effort yet for their lives.

    1. kidmercury

      yes, i’m thinking about dropping my blackberry as well. most consumer mobile technology still sucks, the carriers, the handset, everything. i agree sms is great at least until smartphones get a lot better, and probably after that as well.

  12. Bruce Warila

    considering many mobile use cases – web apps are often tedious. mobile apps can enable the GIGIGO experience via one click. I would rather use a simple simple mobile app for most things interactive on a small screen. I think you are going to see mobile app capabilities in every handset in the future. It’s a better way to reach the 100m Americans with texting disabilities.

  13. Mark Essel

    The least common denominator always get’s me worried. What if there’s something I missed in my last trend estimate, a causation or instinct that was misread in a business prediction? Often the least common denominator isn’t visible until after the fact. What if relevant ads connected to social media scares people more than it provides value? What if no one wants to log into yet ANOTHER service site, can I get by using oauth and existing sm accounts for user ids (I think so)?When designing interfaces or base classes in code you always want to create the lowest common denominator, something all future variations will share as a functional relationship with. But as the environment shifts we are pushed to modify an interface (look at all the changing APIs, REST, pubsubhubbub, push/get etc.) and you get a feel for how non-static our data flow has become. Information doesn’t like to be restricted, maybe it has something to do with the fact that maximal entropy is also maximum information (mutual information theory).

    1. ShanaC

      Design is among the most power things, and you don’t notice until it is done perfectly or until it is done totally wrong- as this comment shows…

  14. Vladimir Vukicevic

    I was just looking at some SMS usage data – it’s very much still on the rise in the world (except for a few developed Asian countries). This is also partially due to the SIM Toolkit which is a technology that never really took off in the U.S. but that gives a richer UI while still utilizing the SMS technology – the common denominator.It is interesting to note that SMS is neither a complete complement nor a complete substitute to more advanced methods for mobile communication (web and apps) but that usage does begin to eventually fall once these begin to permeate the mobile environment. SMS usage is also quite price and culturally sensitive – in many countries Pop Idol has greatly boosted SMS adoption and usage.

    1. fredwilson

      great point about cost. sms costs more than web app and mobile web usage. someone has to pay for it.

      1. Vladimir Vukicevic

        And for companies to utilize SMS (especially globally) there usually needs to be an additional middleman – the SMS aggregator.

  15. ShanaC

    SMS isn’t the category killer for the next generations of phones- its great, I love it for brief (sometimes even long) conversations, but it is not inherently intuitive pressing the shortcode and saying follow FredWilson will be equal to pressing the follow button and following FredWilson on the website. It is a totally different UI experience, that is a long way from its short message/short conversation beginnings. And because it is meant to be conversive, the UI for SMS leaves developers lacking control over what that experience will be like- really important for high touch/feel products like games. (though not the end of the world)The mobile web is just sorely underdeveloped, just like back in the days before I was born and people were using computers known as Ataris. 🙂 I think in the end, the tweet Tim O’rielly is passing around is right- apps is not the end all be all- you want Mobile Websites , great UIs for input on Phones (and that has been making great strides with the second generation HTC Touch 2 and the IPhone). You just need a way that is appropriate to see your stuff on a much tinier screen, especially since not everyone is under the age of 35 who is buying these things (reading glasses anyone?)The app just eats up memory…

  16. markslater

    this is near and dear to me – great post Fred.Bottom line is, SMS is a command line interface. And i think CLI applications will continue to expand. calling a mobile app adds another unnecessary step. (you are calling an app or a wap page in order to be able to initiate a command)Native is CLI. Non-native is WAP. APP, CRAP.

    1. fredwilson

      yeah, i was talking about sms syntax the other day and called it “the command line for the mobile web”

      1. markslater

        exactly.why cant everyone have a unique programmable identifier associated with a shortcode.i should be able to type any series of commands to my identifier and it goes and executes for me.

  17. Jason

    so true for today. as for the other debate, the lcd of the future is the mobile web, not the app store, yet i believe the app store will be alive and kicking for a very long time.and on the sms side what Google is attempting to do in Africa is pretty amazing.

  18. daryn

    I spent a few months recently with a non-smartphone, and I found it be quite a challenge. Using the Twitter example, for example, sure it was fairly easy to tweet via SMS, but following more than one or two people was both impractical and potentially expensive (I have unlimited SMS, but that isn’t the LCD). and forget about tweeting a picture or a link…SMS versus an app (iPhone or otherwise) is like using the console versus a GUI. You need to know the commands, you need to know the tricks, and, in general, you’re not going to have as good of a user experience for casual use.Take foursquare: Launching the app takes a few seconds, but I get the benefit of seeing all my friends at a glance, as well as being able to pick my location using gps and pick-from-list. That’s a huge time saver.I agree with you about the concept of the lowest common denominator as an important part of any system, but, in the checking in at dinner scenario, I’d much rather pop open a real app and show my friends the full experience, than the LCD feature of “you can also do it via SMS”. that doesn’t have enough context to encourage virality.

    1. fredwilson

      that’s why sms is a great onboarding experience but not a power user experience

      1. daryn

        I’d argue that SMS is often the power user feature, not the other wayaround. Following, or picking your location from a list, are fundamentalparts of the services, that really are only practical via an app/webapp. Andsexiness is definitely a big onboarder…

  19. dens

    This was our thinking with dodgeball way back in the day (2004)… what’s the point of making mobile + social services if everyone can’t play? Our plan was to always get the masses hooked on using the SMS interface (remember, most “real people” didn’t have smartphones yet) and then upsell them to better experiences on fancier handsets (J2ME, BREW, Sidekick, etc).For apps where you’re shooting for the early adopters first (e.g. the foursqure launch at SXSW) it seemed like iPhone was the best platform to focus on (with mobile_web for BBerry and Android as a backup) and then have a very basic SMS version so that anyone who was left out could still play.As for mobile sign up with foursquare, not supported *yet*. Though, it’ll most likely work as you describe… check-in as many times as you want before signing up, and then once you do sign up, we’ll be able to tie those old checkins to your newly created account using your phone number as the link.This is an easy way for users to create a history of “where I’ve been” with very little overhead (and those users will still get the benefits of our recommendations, etc once they go thru the more formal sign up process).

    1. fredwilson

      it’s a great plan; sms and mobile web for everyone, and mobile apps for the players who want the best experience

  20. RacerRick

    Everyone has SMS and can do SMS very easily, from any place from anywhere.How many other technologies can you say that about?

    1. fredwilson

      well that’s not entirely true. i still haven’t figure an easy way to sms from the web, but i get your point and agree with it

      1. RacerRick

        That’s such a natural… why hasn’t anyone bothered to do that?

        1. ShanaC

          You see short codes around the problem (aka leave through google or other chat Providers) but none natively from your phone- so wierd- never though about it…

          1. jaysee

            Short codes are weird for phones

          2. Ryan White

            Phones are weird in general. Don’t use them!

          3. jaysee

            Phone are not weird, they are useful communication devices. you should really use them!

          4. Disgruntled

            I disagree with both of you.

          5. jaysee

            Well you can take your disgruntled and do something that I cannot write about here to it.

          6. ShanaC

            I agree that phones are weird. If we are talking about just cellular phones (though some of this could be said of regular phones)- when phones were first invented, they stayed in one place, and they did not send messages in text. Let alone have special phones that run this thing known as the Internet. Or track your location.They’re mutants-phones that haven’t yet evolved into whatever they are supposed to be yet. Embrace the weirdness and help it evolve away from the muntantness..

      2. Jeff Judge

        Can you expand on your: “i still haven’t figure an easy way to sms from the web” Are you talking about ‘text this’ widget?Google Voice just nailed SMS from the web for consumers. I setup my account and love the how easy it is to send/receive SMS.Our TextMe product ( makes firing up SMS campaigns pretty easy for businesses, all controlled through the web.Our engineering team is continually debating about the future of SMS and just how long it will live in terms of web product integration/usage. If the carriers eased up on pricing, this least common denominator would be so much more popular.

        1. fredwilson

          I tried to get google voice to work for me but it just doesn’t work the way I do

          1. kenberger

            unless you’ve completely given up on it, if u like you can feel free to send me the negs u had with it, and I can see if there’s anything I know that might change things (or not).Best feature: texting rocks. And is searchable and easy to organize.Worst: transcription is awful. Less than the “get the gist” passing grade necessary. And you can’t switch it to use Phonetag, whose results are superior.In other news: Spinvox busted for claiming to be mostly software-based. Proves humans are needed to make this stuff work (as you’ve tweeted).

  21. RichardF

    Couldn’t agree more Fred.In Europe, sms is the mass mobile communication tool. It still outweighs mobile email by a factor of gazillions because as you say it’s the lowest common denominator. It is on every mobile phone and every kid over the age of 5 knows how to do it.I love my iphone but smart phone users are way in the minority of mobile phone owners. Sms is here for a good while yet. It’s what I’ve built my current company on and will be an important part of the new one that is in development stage now.

  22. Mobile Behavior

    Don’t you think that SMS’s advantage comes only from the temporary shortcomings of 3G networks and the connectivity issues of non-smartphones. If users had 3G everywhere, with simple, yet speedy access to apps and chat, then the SMS format could disappear. It is still easier to text today but that will not be the case soon, the simple denominator might rapidly become the mobile app.

    1. fredwilson

      yes, that’s certainly true. but it is also true that mobile apps have to be downloaded and in our experience getting an average mainstream user to download anything is hard

      1. markslater

        bingo.SMS is here to stay. its built in to the DNA of the communications stack. its universal, ubiquitous, completely simple. Anything above the third layer for mobile will face a ridiculous uphill battle. Especially now that the ‘programability’ of the SMS protocol is improving rapidly.the internet did not face the challenges that mobile apps do. the iphone is certainly making it easier – but certainly not cheaper, and far from permanent.

    2. ShanaC

      No- A huge factor going in the size of the screens and the keyboards themselves. SMS is useful because they are short and adaptable to the fact that you have a small screen and a small keyboard Not everyone can deal with the long.

  23. erlichson

    I think SMS is just a tweener technology in the long term for mobile. No way that the providers can continue charging such ridiculous per byte rates for datagram traffic.The least common denominator of mobile is really the internet protocol, and when phones are fully addressable with public IP addresses and portability between providers, we will see a whole new class of interesting applications and business models.Thankfully, the cell phone service providers (Verizon, ATT, etc) are now losing power and becoming dumb pipes. It is telling that the iPhone does not have an ATT logo on it in the US, regardless of where you buy it.Of course with Apple we may be trading one monolithic, opaque monarch for another (albeit one with better taste) but the long term trends are in the consumer’s favor.

    1. markslater

      wrong. SMS is the equivalent to the routing protocols (SNMP). All the ‘routers’ (radios) have this built in to their stack. IP addressing will take years, bandwidth, and standards and upgrades. i see SMS as the ‘IP’ of mobile for some time to come.

      1. erlichson

        yes, i know that sms works differently and is not implemented using IP. SMS uses unused bandwidth in the routing packets that travel around the cell phone networks. the towers don’t need to be SMS aware at all since the messages live in unused space in routing packets. all the more reason why the pricing is ridiculous. of course, it is also the reason why you can often get an sms message out even when you can’t make a call due to congestion.but you can imagine building an sms like feature on top of IP,and I think that will come when the phones become pure IP devices.I don’t really understand your comment about SMS being like SNMP. SNMP stands for Simple Network Management Protocol, and it is used to manage routers and collect statistics from routers. It is not a routing could be right that it will take years. certainly the cell phone service providers are not eager to become dumb pipes.

        1. markslater

          i was using snmp as more analgous to what sms is rather than literally what it does. SMS ports differently like snmp and is built in to the network infrastructure.

  24. barryengel

    It’s amazing how the iphone has become the standard for bloated software. We have a 900k java app for BB as well as any java-enabled phone (note to Apple: support java apps). An competitor’s iphone app is 10MB and their BB version is 3MB. Maybe it’s inefficient coding. But it’s almost unusable on a BB (I have a Storm).I agree that the least common denominator is the way to go.

  25. Chris Phenner

    Twitter’s choice to go LCD seems quaint (with the benefit of hindsight). Their ‘decision’ to do so was before folks used mechanisms like “@”, “#” and “RT,” and it started as an SMS-only service. It almost wasn’t a decision, since the only ‘feature’ was to post status. I envy the simplicity of that ‘choice,’ but it’s a rare one.One LCD protocol as-yet unmentioned is email. While not as pervasive as SMS, email-based interaction with applications I think is all-too-often overlooked. Posterous does a great job of creating a first-time user’s account by sending an email. 37Signals’ apps offer a number of ’email interfaces’ that let you post via email. Tripit lets you forward confirmation emails from airlines/hotels, and it auto-ingests the data — a defining feature of the service.If a service is being built from scratch to reach ‘as many as possible,’ sure, SMS helps that. But if a service is being built to reach ‘as many as possible,’ that also begs the question: ‘Who’s it for?’ I think most services at their earliest stages can benefit by purposely SEGMENTING whom they reach, and if they can go ‘down market’ or broaden their features to reach more, then that makes more sense (chronologically).A recent post on this blog spoke to paying the most attention to what calls ‘SMUGs’ (successful meetup user groups). That post was predicated on the notion to pay attention most closely (and make most happy) those who are most happy with the service you are building. How that post foots with this one is confusing (and hard).If I were starting a service from scratch, I would choose SMUGs over LCDs, and come to market with a more firm sense of how to please a smaller number of targeted users, and then work my way ‘outward’ towards the LCDs (my view).

  26. Todd

    I am not sure. Google has had SMS response for a while. When I had my simple phone I rarely used it (just while on the way to the airport to check flight status). Now that I have an iPhone (and a bberry), I often turn to Google for quick answers. LCD in this case is a less attractive option than the richer search results environment that mobile browsing provides, including “peripheral vision”.

  27. Geoff Brown

    I’m always advocating for SMS functionality within apps and marketing campaigns. Just look at the massive volume numbers of mobile users who are texting versus those who jump into data-plan heavy app downloads and mobile web usage. The future of direct marketing will be mobile and probably SMS based, so if you equate the value of the opt-in process of “sending KEYWORD to SHORTCODE” to typing in your email address and clicking SUBMIT, then you’re onto something.Working at Mogreet, this is a topic that is near and dear to me. See what we’ve done with text to short code campaigns and video by sending a text message with the word “NBA” to 22095. With the imminent spread of MMS, we’re allowing the user to “command line” a simple opt-in to receive a multimedia response. Imagine the possibilities…

    1. markslater

      yes – except it should always be a pull based model not a push – many companies made this mistake. the 2.0 of SMS is the pull based CLI.

  28. thewalrus

    After a decade of pain and gain in mobile platforms and internet/mobile services… 7cents…..DOWNSIDES of mobile apps:1) Massive burden for developers to support users across the various platforms and phones….and fragmentation is getting worse, not better2) users must install the app (if developer can’t get pre-installation from a phone vendor or carrier)The first point is a basically a mobile specific issue (MSFTs near monopoly eliminates the issue in a PC-centered world….apologies mac users). The second part is universal…Skype being one of the few massive successes stories in the last decade that was able to overcome the download barrier….the mobile app stores are critical to ease this pain as much as possible.UPSIDE of mobile apps:1) (Potentially) a much better UE2) (On most platforms) the ability to run persistently in the background. This is so important for many of the ‘updates on the go’ (ex. twitter) and ‘send data automatically’ (ex. latitude) use cases that mobile is perfect for.3) (On most platforms) much better phone integration and access to additional device APIs- Mobile web loses out on the upsides, but avoids the pain of the downsides- SMS can be the ‘lowest common denominator’ for short messaging use cases but i think the ‘command line’ UE doesn’t appeal to a mainstream audience for most use cases…its kinda like how un-sexy apps built on top of email always areThrow in battery life issues and the carrier bag of tricks (data costs, network compliancy, etc) and mobile services is still extremely challenging as a profitable stand-alone business today. However, I think we are really close to the inflection point….larger and global installed bases for the ‘winning’ smartphone platforms (including slick app stores and better device compliancy), HTML5, more powerful devices, and lower flat-rate plans are all happening. iPhone has been a great shot in the arm for the whole industry.The next few years should bring exciting new services going mainstream where mobile will be the lead UI and a laptop/desktop browser will only be complimentary.I tried to summarize this bumpy evolution recently….→ internet services stuffed into mobile devices→ internet services optimized for mobile devices→ seamless mobile internet services→ real-time & contextually-relevant services

    1. fredwilson

      Great comment. This is right. Would the situation be different if the device suppliers supported apis for web apps? Today if you want to acess most things on the iphone, you need to build a mobile app. Will that always be the case?

      1. thewalrus

        Two angles to that….1) Mobile platforms are extremely complicated to manage (global market, backwards compatibility, security, operator reqs, etc) so it just takes time to open new APIs even when the will is there2) APIs are a critical way for platforms to drive their business objectives so some APIs are considered more strategic than others (similar dynamics to MSFT over the last 20 years, all web companies now, etc).I think the benefit of the current mobile platform fragmentation is that it creates intense competition….which will increase pressure to be open….which will benefit developers and users alike. And I think the dual-licensing model of APIs on the web (free for personal mashups, lets discuss business if you are using commercially) is a good model that will cross-over.But I think the fundamental issue in mobile is not will the APIs be open or not (i think they will)…..but, who will own the user data and where will it reside?

  29. giseleh

    Nice article!

  30. BUTR

    Great post Fred I think you are right on! I’ve been talking about this for awhile now to artists and managers on why I think Twitter is a great substitute for expensive mobile marketing companies.I receive Twitter updates via Tweetie from the iPhone, but I also choose to receive SMS updates from my favorite peeps so I don’t miss their tweets.I use SMS more than Tweetie from my iPhone to post my tweets (texting to 40404), to turn on mobile updates (ON username), to retrieve the latest tweet (GET username), and to send an SMS invite to a friend’s phone (INVITE phone number). SMS is still faster and easier and less clicks that the any Twitter app.Also anyone who is on the iPhone probably has an unlimited texting plan so we aren’t concerned about hitting our text message limit.I think Twitter or another company offering similar functionality could replace SMS marketing. SMS marketing can be expensive especially in a world of shrinking music budgets. Sure there are affordable DIY solutions out there like Broadtexter, but their isn’t a code to join their mobile lists. Broadtexter is browser-based and doesn’t have the flexibility of Twitter.Artists should urge their fans to text 40404 “follow username” from stage while they have their attention, while they are holding the audience captive! Artists should have banners or screens flashing the info from stage. Their Twitter username should be on album covers, t-shirts, hats, posters, stickers, etc. After all, this is the fans chance to have a one-on-one conversation with the artist!I personally use Twitter SMS everyday to communicate and to get my news.Kami…

    1. fredwilson

      I love the idea of artists saying ‘send a text to 40404 that’s says follow xyz’ from the stage. That’s a great idea

  31. Andrew Warner

    I Tweet from SMS all the time. Like you said, it’s faster and more accessible.But do you think it’s a little like IRC in the sense that it only appeals to geeks because it requires people to remember so many codes?

    1. fredwilson

      I think using sms as a “command line interface” is a geeky thing for sure

      1. markslater

        what if i can create my own commands – and there is a correlation engine that taqkes action on my commands. (eat, drink, music, taxi, shopping ……. – i get contextual deals at the moment i take action from businesses that are putting out JUST IN TIME coupons) fill seats, move inventory, happy hour etc

  32. Hadley Harris

    Great thread! At this stage in the development of the mobile ecosystem the best way for mobile apps/services to build a large user base is to take a multi-prong approach, where technically and financially feasible. By that I mean offer an app on a few smartphone platforms like iPhone, android, BB…and leverage WAP and SMS for the 85% of people who still carry feature phones. This is why services like Twitter and facebook have become so popular mobile use cases. Smartphone user get a rich experience that rivals the desktop while others can still interactive with the service via sms as a first step towards a deeper adoption. The problem is this is very expensive.At Vlingo we’re technically constrained to be an app, since we need access to certain hardware on the phone. I guarantee if we were able to leverage sms or wap as that first step to trying out the service, we’d have at least 5x the millions of users we currently have. We’re fortunate to have the funding to build out apps across all the major OS’s. Most don’t and frankly shouldn’t.Until this issue of costly development is mitigated, mobile apps won’t be a good venture investment. With the exception of a few startups with exceptional differentiating technology, like Vlingo :), the only way to have positive returns investing in apps is to throw very small amounts of money at the UrbanSpoons of the world who build a targeted product with a very low burn. I assume this is why USV has mostly stayed out of mobile other than platforms that can be accessed via sms.

  33. DGentry

    When I first read this I was prepared to disagree vehemently. Then a few days later, I came across another mention of Foursquare. The only reason I had not tried it is the lack of an iPhone or Blackberry. I assumed it was unusable on my simple phone. I tried SMS… and it worked.Its not a great experience, to be sure. Twitter works well on SMS because its main service is very SMS-like, where Foursquare is not. Yet it _does_ work and it captures a bit more user base, some percentage of whom will eventually move to platforms where the experience is better.

    1. DGentry

      After attempting to use foursquare via SMS for a little while, I have to say that it is unpleasant. If a service does not line up very well with the SMS capabilities, the experience will be frustrating and not very fulfilling.I checked in via SMS, but did not type the exact name of the known venue in the foursquare database. Looking at the website later, there is not a way to edit your checkins to point them to the correct venue. I guess I’ll have to delete that checkin, and painfully type the entire phrase next time (using T9). Were I using a client app, they would be able to match versus their current database and suggest the existing venue during my checkin.Supporting SMS requires more effort than just setting up a shortcode to pipe in text updates. You have to be cognizant of the difficulty in typing using T9 on primitive phones, and allow the more powerful interfaces (like the web site) to correct for the deficiencies of the SMS interface.

      1. fredwilson

        I totally agree with you. Its suboptimal right now