Send yourself reminders via SMS.

January 17, 2007 by Dylan Tweney

Wouldn’t it be convenient if your phone could remind you about important dates, events you need to remember, and things you need to do on your way home from work?

With SMS reminders, you can easily use your phone as a memory aid. And it’s far easier than trying to figure out your phone’s calendar application to set yourself an alarm (or — worse — trying to sync your phone with your computer-based calendar).

The trick is finding a service that will send reminders to your phone. I know of at least three easy alternatives.

If you’re already using an online calendar like Yahoo Calendar or Google Calendar, SMS reminders are already built in to the calendar. All you need to do is select the right option. And if you’re not using one of these calendars, Backpack has a terrific SMS reminder service that’s also free.

With both calendar services you’ll need to confirm your phone number and carrier before you can use the SMS reminder service. They’ll send a test message to your phone containing a secret code, and once you enter this code on the site, you’re good to go.

With Yahoo Calendar, when you create a new event, look for the “Reminders” section about two thirds of the way down the new event form. In that section, you tell Yahoo when to send reminders (it can send you two — for instance, one message two days before the event, and one 15 minutes before it starts) and where to send them: your Yahoo Messenger account, your email address, or your mobile device.

At the specified times, Yahoo will fire off a text message to you, letting you know what’s coming up.

In Google Calendar, you can only select one reminder (but you can tell Google how far in advance of your event that you want it to start). Look for the “Reminder” option in the “Options” section of the “Create Event” form on Google Calendar. It’s just a simple select box. To set up where you want to receive reminders, you need to go to Settings and then click on the Notifications tab. On that tab, you can tell Google how you want to be notified for various types of events (such as upcoming appointments in your calendar or invitations from other Google Calendar users); one of the options is SMS.

Not using either of these online calendars? Your easiest option is probably the Reminders service built in to Backpack. Backpack is an easy-to-use service for creating web pages, taking notes online, and even maintaining to-do lists. Its simplest version includes the reminders service, and its free. You’ve got to create a new Backpack account if you don’t already have one. Then go to the Settings tab on your Backpack site, enter your mobile phone number and carrier, and tell Backpack that’s how you want to receive reminders. (You can also enter an email address.)

Then, to set a reminder, all you have to do is visit the Reminders tab on your Backpack site. Type the text of the reminder you want and specify a time to be reminded. For instance, you can choose from “Later today” (about 5pm your time), “tomorrow morning,” “in a week,” “in a year,” or at a particular date and time you specify. Then click on the Set Reminder button.

The nice thing about Backpack’s reminders is that reminders are very quick to set up, and you can see all of your pending reminders in a simple list — you don’t have to hunt through your calendar to find them. On the other hand, it is another service to keep track of, so if you’re already using an online calendar, that may be an easier option.

Verizon Wireless increases SMS fees.

January 15, 2007 by Dylan Tweney

After Sprint Nextel and Cingular raised their SMS text messaging fees, Verizon Wireless is doing it too. Starting March 1, the price Verizon Wireless charges you for sending text messages from North America, and for receiving text messages from anywhere, will be $0.15 — a 50% increase from the current price of $0.10 to send or receive messages. That brings Verizon’s pricing to the same level as Sprint Nextel and Cingular. Bulk messaging plans cost the same as before.

The only major U.S. carrier left that charges just $0.10 per message is T-Mobile — so if you’re a heavy user of SMS text messaging, you know which service provider is your best bet. Just keep in mind that SMS prices aren’t set in stone, and T-Mobile could raise its prices too.

Of course, if you’re a heavy texter — regardless of which carrier you’re using — you’ll want to sign up for a bulk messaging plan, which will give you several hundred messages per month, or even an unlimited number of text messages, for a flat monthly fee.

More info: Verizon Wireless joins SMS price increase club (MobileTracker)

How to send anonymous text messages.

January 11, 2007 by Dylan Tweney

Want to send a mash note to someone you’re secretly admiring? Got a tip about some shenanigans at your office that you want to let the HR department know about? Just want to really freak someone out? AnonTxt.com is a service that lets you send anonymous SMS text messages to anyone.

Just visit the AnonTxt home page to get started. (For sending text messages outside the U.S. and Canada, use AnonTxt’s international page.) If you want, you can enter an alias for yourself in the first box. Put an optional subject line in the second box. Then type the recipient’s phone number and your message. When you hit Submit, your message will go off into the either, winging its way anonymously to the recipient.

When they receive the message, it will contain your message together with the subject line. The sender will appear as “Anon@AnonTxt.com” unless you entered an alias, in which case that’s what the “sender” field will show. And since you’re not required to enter any information about yourself to use AnonTxt, the odds are very low that the message can ever be traced to you.

Note that it may be possible for law enforcement officials to subpoena the AnonTxt company, get their web traffic logs, and figure out the IP address of the computer you used when you visited AnonTxt.com. (The company’s privacy policy acknowledges this.) In that way, it might be possible to trace your message back to you. But it would take a serious law enforcement reason to do something like that. For love letters and gentle pranks, this is as anonymous as it gets.

But please, be kind. Anonymity is a useful and even critical service for many good reasons — for instance, people in repressive regimes may depend on anonymity to get the news out, organize themselves, and resist their governments. But it’s possible to abuse the privilege of anonymity too, and that can undercut the case for keeping services like this truly anonymous. When you use AnonTxt.com, don’t be a jerk.

More SMS ads coming your way?

January 3, 2007 by Dylan Tweney

Advertisers have been casting lustful looks at your cell phone for a long time, and now it looks like cell carriers are ready to hand over your mobile and start sending ads to it via SMS (as well as video).

News reports say that AT&T; Wireless will start selling ads on cell phones in the coming year.

According to an analyst, who is clearly on the side of the carriers more than the users, mobile advertising via text messaging and other media is “perfectly appropriate now.” His firm reports that nearly 14 percent of U.S. mobile users, or 27.5 million people, said they received as many five ads on their cell phones between September and November 2006.

Have you ever received an ad via SMS text message? Did you think that it was “perfectly appropriate”?

AT&T; Joins Big Carriers in Wireless Ad Promise

Voting by SMS?

December 28, 2006 by Dylan Tweney

Okay, so you may never get to vote in an actual election via text message — and if you do, I’m hoping that you don’t live in my country, because the security issues involved in voting by cell phone would make a Diebold machine look like Fort Knox.

But you can take part in the democratic process — or so some candidates would have you believe. When he announced his candidacy for President of the U.S. this week, John Edwards set up an SMS short code so people can communicate with the campaign by texting. Except that “communicate” is a bit of an exaggeration: What you can do is send the word ‘hope‘ in a text message to short code 30644, and in response you get this note:


Thanks for joining our campaign to change America. Please txt us your email. Start changing America at JohnEdwards.com.


That’s it?? No interactive, SMS-based opinion polls? No menu of additional codes you can send to get info on the candidate’s positions? Imagine if you could text “foreign policy,” “taxes,” “education,” “abortion,” or “Paula Abdul” to that number, and get Edwards’ statement on each of these matters of important national importance? What if you could find out his next public appearance via SMS? I mean, come on — SMS is supposed to be interactive. I want to get more than just an advertisement here. You can do better than that, John Edwards!

Cingular raises text messaging fee 50%.

December 18, 2006 by Dylan Tweney

Cingular will be raising the price of sending and receiving an SMS text message to 15 cents starting on January 21, 2007, according to news reports (Cingular raises text messaging fee from 10 to 15 cents :: RCR Wireless News).

Sprint made a similar move back in October.

The current price is just 10 cents (assuming you haven’t purchased a bulk SMS plan, which gives you a discounted rate) so this represents a price increase of 50%.

It’s hard for me to understand why U.S. carriers, which are struggling to get consumers to embrace SMS as enthusiastically as Europeans, would choose to raise their prices. Yes, many more Americans are using SMS than ever before. But the market still has a long way to go before SMS use is truly ubiquitous. As many readers of this site have testified, lots of people aren’t even aware that they can use SMS to send email to a cell phone until they read how to do it here! Raising prices by 50% seems like a sure-fire way to slow down SMS adoption to me. But then, I’m not a greedy telecommunications executive either.

(Please note that as of this writing, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile still charge only 10 cents to send or receive an SMS.)

What do you think? Is an SMS text message worth 15 cents?

mixd: Yahoo’s SMS networking service.

November 30, 2006 by Dylan Tweney

Yahoo now has an site, like Twittr or Dodgeball, that lets you communicate with your friends, set up get-togethers, and share pictures and videos, all via SMS and MMS text messaging. It’s called mixd and it’s free to use. You can sign up at the mixd web site or check it out by sending a text message containing the word “try” to 445566. You’ll need to validate your mobile phone number to start, and sign up for a Yahoo ID if you don’t already have one. The service is just getting started so there’s no telling how many people are actually using it — probably not that many — but if you can convince your friends to sign up too, hey, it might be useful and fun.

(Thanks to Natali del Conte at TechCrunch for breaking the news about this)

SMS searching, the Windows way.

November 20, 2006 by Dylan Tweney

Not one to be left behind by Google, 4INFO, and Yahoo, Microsoft has just launched its own SMS search service. It works a lot like the others do: You create a text message with your query, then send it to a special short code — in this case, 95483 (which corresponds to “WLIVE” — for “Windows Live” — on your cell phone’s keypad).

Here are some of the queries you can use with Windows Live Mobile SMS Search:

  • Business searches by location: “florist san mateo ca”
  • Reverse phone number lookups: Just enter the phone number
  • For stock quotes, use the letter Q plus a ticker symbol: Q AAPL
  • For instant answers from Encarta and other reference sources, start your query with a question mark: “? war of 1812″
  • For definitions, start with the letter D: “D ennui”

For all the details, check out the Windows Mobile SMS web site.

And here’s a blog entry announcing the service: Windows Live Mobile launches SMS Search Beta

Sprint users with Palm 700wx phones: SMS trouble.

November 16, 2006 by Dylan Tweney

According to treocentral.com, some users of Sprint’s 700wx have had problems sending SMS text messages. In some instances, Treo users are not able to send SMS messages to recipients using other carriers or certain other Sprint phones. In other cases, Treo users may receive duplicate messages, particularly if the messages are longer than 140 characters.

According to the site, Sprint customer service is aware of the problem but has not yet provided a fix for it: “Palm and Sprint are aware that 700wx customers have been experiencing issues sending SMS messages within and outside the Sprint network. … We are working on an update which will be available via the web or over-the-air by the end of the year. In the meantime, Sprint customers may request credit for any charges incurred as a result of this error.”

Treocentral has a forum discussing the Treo SMS problem. And you can always contact Sprint customer service if you need specific help or want your account credited for the extra text messages.

UPDATE 11/21/2006: Palm has issued a patch for the Treo 700wx that fixes this problem; Treocentral has the details. Or click here to download the update from Palm.

SMS messages as forensic evidence.

by Dylan Tweney

Be careful what you send in a text message. A company called Paraben Corp. sells software that allows police to retrieve SMS messages that you’ve sent or received on your phone. In fact, at least one killer got nabbed when the police found a text message on his phone confessing to the murder he’d just committed.

How long do text messages linger on your phone? That depends on how actively you text. If you send a lot of SMSes, old messages might only stick around for two weeks or so. For less avid texters, old messages could linger for a couple months.

Generation Text Finds It Isn’t Easy Getting Rid of Cellphone Messages (WSJ – subscription may be required)

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About the Author

This site is published by Dylan Tweney, a professional writer and editor, publisher of haiku and SMS information, and a senior editor at Wired.

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