UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

On the Demise of the Free Twitter SMS Service

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 Sep 2008

Imagine the following conversation:

“Where are you going?”
“Down to the High Street. I’ve just received a message saying that there’s a guy giving away free £20 notes. Are you coming?”
“No. And you shouldn’t.”
“Why ever not?”
“It’s clearly not sustainable in the long run”
“Look, he’s clearly not got a sustainable business model.”
“And don’t try and tell me that he might be bought out by Google or Microsoft. You know that’s unlikely to happen. You can’t base your decisions on such speculative thinking.”
“Oh no.” Shuffles back to office.
“Where are you going?”
“Back to work”
“I’m pleased that I managed to persuade you not to be tempted by someone with such clearly flawed and ill conceived idea.”
“**** ***! All the money’s gone – and I missed out, thanks to you. And my friends picked up about £1,000.”

This came to mind after I received a email from Biz Stone on the 14 August 2008 saying that:

Beginning today, Twitter is no longer delivering outbound SMS over our UK number. If you enjoy receiving updates from Twitter via +44 762 480 1423, we are recommending that you explore some suggested alternatives.

The message went on to explain the the delivery of Twitter messages (Tweets) via SMS would continue in the US, Canada and India, as Twitter had negotiated business deal with the mobile phone provers in those countries. They hadn’t been able to negotiate a deal in the UK, unfortunately, As the email described “Even with a limit of 250 messages received per week, it could cost Twitter about $1,000 per user, per year to send SMS outside of Canada, India, or the US“.

Now when I wrote a post on Use of Twitter to Support IWMW Events in which I described how we used Twitter at the IWMW 2008 event to deliver SMS messages to participants for free using Twitter as the delivery mechanisms and then, a few weeks later, you heard that this service had been withdrawn did you think that that clearly demonstrates that organisations shouldn’t make use of free services with questionable sustainability models? Or did you think: “That’s an opportunity not to be missed. Let’s use it while it’s still going.“?

3 Responses to “On the Demise of the Free Twitter SMS Service”

  1. Custard said

    Hi Brian

    I think it is not the case that institutions (or individuals) should avoid using such systems because they might be subject to change or withdrawal, but they certainly need to be aware of this possibility and have the flexibility to adapt to such changes.

    I personally have found that my use of Twitter has changed radically over the last few weeks since the text message update aspect was withdrawn. I am finding myself attracted to Twitterers who tweet with useful nuggets of information or links, rather than more personal updates, as it can be several hours and updates hence when I get to check either via the web or via Twitterific, rendering the more social comments less meaningful. I am finding that Twitter is still a great source of links and recommendations in manageable chunks – so it still has its uses to aid information sharing in a timestrapped environment – but it may evolve to be less of a social platform.

    So really the question when these things happen should not be ” Oh no! It’s gone! What should I use instead?” but “How can I adapt to make use of this system in another useful way, rather than wasting all that effort?”

  2. Hi,

    I thought you might be interested to know that myself (@PaulKinlan) and (@prawlings) have launched a twitter service called Twe2 ( that gives Twitter users their DM’s, @replies and custom searches via SMS for free (to nearly every country in the world). The free part is that the messages are advertising subsidised.


  3. Adrian said

    I’ve signed up to the Twe2 service but so far… nothing. Not even a quiet chirp. Shame.

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