Twitter stops texting in Europe

August 14, 2008 at 5:43 am 2 comments

Is this the end of the world as we know it? Twitter has announced that they’re no longer providing outbound SMS notifications in Europe – well, anywhere outside the US Canada and India actually.

To anyone with any knowledge of mobile operators’ pricing models and how they vary across continents, this will come as no surprise. Even though it’s capped at 250 messages per user per week, this service has been leaking money for Twitter since it started. You simply can’t terminate an SMS in Europe for free. Bulk pricing through any of the big aggregators will get you a little under $0.10 / £0.05 per message but no lower. So that’s $25 a week, or $1300 a year at the capped level. And in case you hadn’t noticed, Twitter gets no revenue from your tweets. They’re potentially writing a $1300 cheque every year for each SMS user. How could they possibly continue to fund this?

The Twitterverse will be up in arms about this. The Aussies have already made their presence felt on Twitter’s GetSatisfaction site. Whilst I’m sure they can weather the storm, the PR won’t be good. Many Twitter users depend on SMS as part of the social experience, and won’t be satisfied with Twitter’s suggestion to use a mobile Twitter client or the m.twitter.com interface.

What can be done? Premium-rate mobile-terminated SMS schemes are popular, alowing the recipient of the message to pay through their phone bill per message received, but setting one of these up is not for the faint hearted – blanket coverage of all the networks across a continent can take months or years to sort out; customer on-boarding and billing will be different wherever you go; regulatory issues may constrain the service in some countries. Hard work and very expensive. It’s something Twitter could consider, but I doubt they have the capability to do it in-house. They’re a social network, not a telco. And a premium service by subscription isn’t something they could set up overnight, either.

So again, Twitter is the victim of its own success. As they say in their blog

When we launched our free SMS service to the world, we set the clock ticking. As the service grew in popularity, so too would the price.

For some, this will mean Twitter’s no longer useful. Probably not for most, though – personally I’ll barely notice. But this is a setback in Twitter’s progress towards world domination. SMS is an insanely popular way of communicating, and they need to find a stable financial model to bring it back into the fold. If they don’t, someone else will.

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