Undoubtedly the biggest web app of 2007 was Twitter, the simple web app that allowed you to send a text message and have that sent for free to anyone that followed you. Combined with a simple API, useful web apps could be created to send you txts when your train was going to be delayed or when you got a new email, etc. However, this has all stopped in the UK, Europe, and Australia for the time being as Twitter has finally turned off the ability to send messages (although you can still update your status by sending a txt). The full details are below in an email that was received by those registered with the service in affected areas and also on the twitter blog:
I'm sending you this note because you registered a mobile device to work with Twitter over our UK number. I wanted to let you know that we are making some changes to the way SMS works on Twitter. There is some good news and some bad news.
I'll start with the bad news. 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.
Note: You will still be able to UPDATE over our UK number.
Before I go into more detail, here's a bit of good news: Twitter will be introducing several new, local SMS numbers in countries throughout Europe in the coming weeks and months. These new numbers will make Twittering more accessible for you if you've been using SMS to send long-distance updates from outside the UK.
Why are we making these changes?
Mobile operators in most of the world charge users to send updates. When you send one message to Twitter and we send it to ten followers, you aren't charged ten times--that's because we've been footing the bill. 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.
Our challenge during this window of time was to establish relationships with mobile operators around the world such that our SMS services could become sustainable from a cost perspective.
We achieved this goal in Canada, India, and the United States. We can provide full incoming and outgoing SMS service without passing along operator fees in these countries.
We took a risk hoping to bring more nations onboard and more mobile operators around to our way of thinking but we've arrived at a point where the responsible thing to do is slow our costs and take a different approach. Since you probably don't live in Canada, India, or the US, we recommend receiving your Twitter updates via one of the following methods.
m.twitter.com works on browser-enabled phones
m.slandr.net works on browser-enabled phones
TwitterMail.com works on email-enabled phones
Cellity [http://bit.ly/12bw4R] works on java-enabled phones
TwitterBerry [http://bit.ly/MFAfJ] works on BlackBerry phones
Twitterific [http://bit.ly/1WxjwQ] works on iPhones
Twitter SMS by The Numbers
It pains us to take this measure. However, we need to avoid placing undue burden on our company and our service. 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. It makes more sense for us to establish fair billing arrangements with mobile operators than it does to pass these high fees on to our users.
Twitter will continue to negotiate with mobile operators in Europe, Asia, China, and The Americas to forge relationships that benefit all our users. Our goal is to provide full, two-way service with Twitter via SMS to every nation in a way that is sustainable from a cost perspective. Talks with mobile companies around the world continue. In the meantime, more local numbers for updating via SMS are on the way. We'll keep you posted.
Thank you for your attention,
Biz Stone, Co-founder
Now this has upset a LOT of users (especially in Australia) but is the general outcry from the web community really justified? As Twitter themselves say, it could cost them nearly $1000 per user per year to send txts and with 2.2 million users that ain't cheap. It has always been a mystery to me as to how Twitter makes money and how they are able to send all these txts for free so it comes as no surprise that they have finally stopped doing it.
But what about the alternatives? I'm using a mac and an iPhone so I've gone for the obvious choice of Twitteriffic on both which does a pretty good job. On my mac, I get a little chirpy noise and a popup when I get a tweet which works a lot better than an SMS in a lot of ways and this is similar on the iPhone. The only downside is that the iPhone doesn't support 3rd party apps running in the background so at present you have to open the app to see if there are any updates which is a bit of a pain. However, this is due to change with iPhone Firmware 2.1 which is hopefully going to be with us some time in September.
Once the ability to receive twitters from Twitteriffic seamlessly occurs, I think it will prove a lot more successful than the txt message route. Firstly, because it will cost nothing to reply (whereas previously it was very easy to reply to a twitter from a txt and thus get charged for it) and secondly because new features can be added to the service. Twitteriffic already supports location awareness on the iPhone so people can see where I am twittering from - a small improvement but an improvement none the less.
In response to everybody shouting at Twitter about this issue, why don't they instead complain about the mobile phone companies who are so greedy in the affected countries that they refuse to do a deal with Twitter? It comes as no surprise to me that in the UK the cellular networks refused to budge on pricing but that is no fault of Twitter who have been paying so much over the last year and a half to make a great service at absolutely no cost to the end user (not even adding advertising to tweets which would seem an obvious money making route).
So in answer to "is Twitter now dead" I would say no! There are still several uses for it (e.g. I use it to keep a micro blog on my homepage) and with several applications for all types of phones it is still easy to stay updated. It will become really useful for me however when Apple release the next iPhone update with push technology - then it will be as if nothing had even changed.
Update: Amusingly it looks like someone is already trying to cash in on the lack of SMS from Twitter around most of the world. Apparently tweetSMS will "send you individual, hourly or daily updates from all (or just some) of your friends" for a "very small fee". We'll see how small that fee is when they launch I suppose…