How do I text thee ? Let me count the ways

Whenever I see fragmentation in protocol standards, I’m reminded of the story of the Tower of Babel. There’s probably a moral in there somewhere, but I’m not about to get all philosophical on you. I’m going to try and list the texting applications I’m aware of and try and reflect on where all this is headed.

Some research shows that the smartphone revolution and the plethora of texting applications are already taking pieces of the SMS revenue, but this is only (or mostly) in the person to person use of texting. The large market of SMS gateway services will probably not be affected in the immediate future as their services require:

  1. A standard text messaging protocol
  2. Knowing in advance that the protocol is supported by the remote device

As previously mentioned, SMS is the only protocol that complies with the above requirements, and by the looks of it, the protocols of both existing and new texting applications that keep popping up will just continue to diverge until someone with enough clout or some grass-root revolution will set the de-facto standard for Internet text messaging (yes, I’m aware of RFC 3248 and RFC 5365, but if it is not widely  used then it is not very helpful). Currently the only contender is XMPP, used by Google talk.

Just to give you a feel for the landscape, the following are popular messaging applications for smartphones (listed in no particular order):

BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), iMessenger (Apple), WhatsApp, Viber,ChatON (Samsung), Nimbuzz, Skype, fring, Meebo, Google Voice, PingChat, TextNow, Kik, TextFree, TextPlus, TextOne, Touch (Enflick), KakaoTalk, GO Chat, Disco, Beluga, Facebook Messenger (Facebook), GroupMe, HeyWire, Yahoo Messenger, LiveProfile, FastSociety, HurricaneParty, Yobongo, Ebuddy, RocketTalk,  AOL Messenger.

The  above list does not include applications that are big locally, such as Mxit which has more local subscribers in South Africa than Facebook has.

The user base of these apps varies – many have over a million subscribers, others in the above list have several millions of users and yet others have an even broader reach (like iMessage which gives access to 100 million iOS users).


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