sms.ac – What’s the Story?

Many of you will be a little surprised at the content of this post, as it’ll probably be the first time you’ve ever read anything remotely positive about sms.ac in the blogosphere. I have no intention of being an sms.ac apologist and it’s worth emphasising that I have no commercial relationship with them, but I think we can cautiously encourage their latest initiatives. I did make the time at CTIA to meet them, as I wanted to get a briefing from the people themselves and develop my own conclusions, rather than relying on web gossip.

But first let’s recap. If you’re not from round these parts, no company that I can think of has attracted quite so much vitriol in the last few years. This was undoubtedly inflamed by their habit of intimidating bloggers with Cease and Desist letters when they wrote something sms.ac considered factually incorrect. Joi Ito and Russell Beattie were two high profile bloggers that spring to mind who were on the receiving end of these things. To a blogger, who isn’t actually earning an appreciable money from their work, these things aren’t worth incurring legal bills in fighting, which could really stack up if you took on a corporation. So most make a decision to roll over and die when the C&D arrives.

Whichever way you look at it though, serving C&D’s might win you the skirmish, but you tend to lose the war for people’s hearts and minds. So no matter how frustrated and “in the right” you might feel, I would recommend that you never go down this route.

But apart from heavy-handed legal tactics, let‚Äôs look at the actual “crimes” that the company was alleged to commit. They really fall into two categories, both relating to spam – which if you read MobHappy regularly is a pet hate of mine:

Email Spam

When you register with them, you’re asked if you want to invite your contacts from your address book. This isn’t actually unusual Рmost social networking sites operate similar systems. The process involves uploading your address book or buddy list and then sms.ac sending out invites to join sms.ac and hook up with you, to everyone you agree to let them contact.

Looking at today’s site, I think it’s very obvious what’s happening here and it’s hard to see how people could invite lots of people by accident. You can choose to invite them all, a selected few or none at all. Furthermore, they need your email address and password to access this information. But it could happen by accident to a naive user, I guess.

In my opinion though the main problem is that the default setting for sending out these invites is once a month for a year – 12 times for the mathematically challenged among you. This seems to be to be over the top, quite honestly, even though people can change the default to any number they wish. sms.ac reply that there’s no drop off in response between the first invite going out and the 12th, which implies that maybe people do need to be reminded that often.

However, for the people who genuinely didn‚Äôt want to join up, you can see how very annoying this might be. Personally, I‚Äôve been on the “invited” end of this and felt frustrated. But, you can opt out of further invites ‚Äì this is a blanket opt out, so you‚Äôll never be invited by that person or anyone else ever again in connection with sms.ac. My own experience has proved to me that this opt out works.

I can’t really see what sms.ac could be asked to do about this, other than dropping the bulk invite tool altogether. And in fairness, I’m sure many people do find this facility useful. I myself use a similar facility at Linked In all the time.

However, if anyone has any suggestions to make this element better, I’ll pass them on.

sms spam

The other issue on the spam front is via the sms channel. The way the sms.ac model works is that when you join, you sign up to receive messages, for which you are charged – but sending messages to others in the community is free. This is a pretty natural way of encouraging contributions from the community. But, as anyone who has ever dealt with the public knows, people easily forget that they’ve opted in and will swear blind that they never did. To add insult to their feeling of injury, they also get charged for receiving these sms that they don’t remember asking for in the first place.

Worse for the image of sms.ac is that the more messages they send out, the more money they make and it’s quite easy to jump to the conclusion that they are deliberately spamming people to boost profits.

One of the things that sms.ac announced at CTIA is that they’ve moved from a per message service to a subscription model. This means now that the more messages they send out, the higher their own costs will be Рand could even lead to losses if messaging volumes are higher than expected. So this appears at least to put an end to that element of the accusation.

sms.ac freely admit that they have made mistakes in the past and to be honest, no one who has ever developed a service in any industry doesn’t make mistakes, particularly in usability in a tech-based environment. But what does seem to have happened is that sms.ac have made significant moves to correcting their problems.

Before I started to write about this I had a look around the web and while there‚Äôs plenty of complaints, they do seem to all date from over a year ago – I could have missed something though. On top of that, they have a toll free support line and email support, so if you have a grievance, get in touch with them. They also have a no-quibble money back guarantee, which seems to be putting their money where their mouth is and showing that they‚Äôre serious about their image. I also can’t think of anyone else who has this, but I could be wrong.

So, all the signs seem to me to indicate that sms.ac is committed to best practice, at least from now on in. I think as a blogger and as a part of the mobile community that I should welcome that, albeit with a big dose of caution. It’s perfectly possible that there are still issues with the company and I’m very sure you’ll be letting me know if you find something I haven’t uncovered.

But in the meantime, I think sms.ac seem to be cleaning up its act and that has to be a good thing for the industry and the 50 million members they claim to have.

sms.ac’s big idea at CTIA, if you haven’t read about it already, is to allow developers of mobile content to sell direct to their 50 million members. Developers are invited to merchandise their product or service in a “Pod” which can then be browsed by members and they can place an order. sms.ac handle the billing, which also means they can ensure that the advertised price is accurate.

Developers keep 33% of the revenue generated, which seems quite low until you consider that sms.ac must also share the remaining 67% of the revenue with the operators for the Premium sms billing. This can be 50% of the gross revenue and as high as 70%, I believe, in some markets, leaving around 17%, and sometimes a lot less, for sms.ac.

This idea seems a great attempt at solving real pain in the market for independent developers – how do you tell the user about your fantastic product, without spending a fortune on marketing or giving away a fortune to get on the operator deck?

So, in conclusion, I was impressed with CEO, Michael Pousti and his cohorts, Greg Wilfahrt and Barry Stagg, and what they had to say. Certainly impressed enough to write this and invite the howls of derision and jabbering that I’m sure will follow from some quarters.

But a look at the actual evidence, as opposed to gossip and rumour, is pretty convincing and certainly I have had no problems with the service since I signed up (completely anonymously) two weeks ago.

Have your say – please leave a comment.

(Russell lights touch paper and hides.)
[tags]sms.ac, pousti, wilfahrt, spam, sms, messaging, pod[/tags]

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