eBay auction alerts via SMS.

05-09-2006 by Dylan Tweney

eBay recently launched a service that lets you get SMS notifications on auctions you’re bidding on. If you’ve ever lost a bidding war because you forgot to sign on to eBay just before an auction ended, you’ll appreciate this service. Whenever you’re outbid, eBay will send you a short text message — and you can raise your bid just by replying to that message, right on your phone.

To set up SMS alerts on eBay, go to “My eBay” and then click on “Preferences” (the link is underneath “My Account” in the left-hand sidebar). Then click on “Notification Preferences.”

You’ll see a link to add a mobile phone number for SMS text message alerts. Click on it, and you’ll get a screen where you enter your cellular service provider (aka carrier) and phone number. Currently, eBay supports Cingular, T-Mobile, Sprint, Nextel, Verizon, and Alltel. If you’re concerned about security, you can also specify a short PIN that you have to enter in order to confirm bids that you send from your phone. You can also limit the hours that eBay will send messages to you (so you don’t get woken up at 1am by the beep your phone makes when it receives an SMS), and tell it how many minutes before an auction ends that you want to receive a reminder.

Once you’ve verified your phone number (by replying to a confirmation SMS), eBay will give you an SMS notification option any time you’re bidding on an item. You’ll also be able to place items on your watchlist (without bidding on them) and receive regular updates via SMS.

eBay charges $0.25 for every 10 messages sent, and the charges will appear on your cell phone bill.

If you want to turn off eBay SMS notifications, just reply to an eBay text message with the word STOP.

Send text messages to landline phones.

24-08-2006 by Dylan Tweney

What if you need to send a message to someone and you can’t just talk to them on the phone — perhaps because you’re in the library or in class? And what if they don’t have an SMS-capable cell phone?

If you’ve got a Sprint phone, no worries — you can use the “Text to Landline” service to send text messages to people, even if they don’t have SMS text messaging.

All you need to do is compose a text message in the normal way, and enter the 10-digit phone number of the person you want to send it to. After you send it off, Sprint will turn your text message into a voice message, using text-to-speech technology. Your computerized voice message will play whenever the person on the other end picks up their phone.

Sprint even offers the option for the recipient to reply (via voice) and their response will be sent to you as a voice message.

Pretty slick, huh? And it costs exactly the same amount as it does to send an ordinary text message. (check Sprint SMS pricing info)

For more details, check out the Text to Landline FAQ for Sprint subscribers. If you’re on Nextel, read the FAQ on Text to Landline for Nextel customers.

Get info from 4INFO.

06-08-2006 by Dylan Tweney

When it comes to getting free information via SMS, there’s definitely more than one game in town. 4INFO offers a wide range of free information services, all of which are accessible by SMS text messaging.

The basic gist of 4INFO is this: You send an information request to the short code 4INFO (44636). In a few seconds to a minute, you’ll get an SMS message in return containing the information you were looking for.

For example, say you wanted to know the latest scores for the Yankees. All your SMS message needs to contain is one word: yankees. Send it off to 44636, then wait a moment. 4info will reply with an SMS containing the latest game score and the date and time of the next game.

For stock prices, just send a ticker symbol as your message: aapl or ibm. 4info will respond with a message containing the current price, the day’s high and low, and the stock market volume.

4info can also do FedEx package tracking, give you the weather forecast by ZIP code, tell you where to find a Wi-Fi hotspot in your ZIP code, give you your horoscope, and even tell you how to mix drinks. It’s an amazingly versatile information service, and all of it is completely free. (You will incur charges from your cellular carrier for using SMS, however.)

4info also offers SMS text alerts, so you can get messages automatically every day that tell you what weather to expect, when that package you sent actually gets delivered, what your horoscope for that day is, and the like. You can even get inning-by-inning or quarter-by-quarter updates on pro sports games. To get alerts, you’ll need to register on the 4info web site first (it’s free).

For more information on the kinds of searches 4info supports, along with examples of each one, check out the 4INFO how-to page.

Trnsl8 txt spk!

by Dylan Tweney

Can’t make sense of SMS text shortcuts? Check out Transl8It, a handy web form for turning ordinary English text into “txt spk” and vice versa.

Save money on 411 info calls.

04-08-2006 by Dylan Tweney

411 Directory Assistance can cost a bundle!

You might not realize it unless you’re in the habit of closely examining your cell phone bill, but cellular service providers charge a lot for “411” calls (calls you make to local — or national — directory assistance by dialing 411).

Here are the fees that some of the top carriers charge for each call to 411:

Note that you are using your minutes (“airtime”) each time you call 411 — so if you call from a roaming area, you could be charged 40 cents or 60 cents or more for each minute you’re on the phone with 411 — in addition to the above charges. Ouch!

At these rates, it makes a lot of sense to use an SMS-based search service like Google SMS instead of dialing 411. SMS-based 411 inquiries are free, except for the SMS charges, so you can save a dollar or more for each lookup you do via text instead of calling directory assistance.

For example, suppose you want to find a local flower shop. A call to Cingular 411 costs $1.50 plus airtime — and the operator might not give you the number and address of a shop unless you know its name first.

But if you send an SMS to Google saying “florist 90210” you might get 3 messages back from Google, each of which has the name, address, and phone number of a different florist. For a total of 4 SMS messages (the one you sent plus the 3 you receive) Cingular will charge you 40 cents.

That’s a savings of $1.10 — plus you’re not using any airtime — and you get three times as much information. Now that’s a strong argument for using SMS!

Txt spk 101.

03-08-2006 by Dylan Tweney

If you send a lot of SMS text messages you’ve probably come up against the serious limitations of a cell phone’s keypad. The difficulty of entering whole words, combined with the strict 160-character limit for most text messages, means that there’s a very strong impulse to abbreviate things in text messages. For instance, “text” becomes “txt,” “for” becomes “4,” “your” becomes “yr,” and so on.

It’s more common for young people to use text shorthand (but then, it’s more common for young people to be communicating via SMS in the first place). But while grownups — especially teachers — often bemoan the terrible effects this practice must be having on the kids’ language skills, it turns out that the abbreviations used by teenagers for SMS texting might not be so bad for their spelling and grammar. According to one study, anyhow, teenagers are actually quite skilled at switching contexts (using “txt spk” on their phones and more formal writing for class essays) and at spotting errors.

Whether you’re a teenager or an adult, however, text shortcuts can be handy for simplifying SMS messaging — and they can be fun, too. Here’s a short list of some common abbreviations used in SMS (and sometimes in computer-based instant messaging too).

2: to, too, or two
2day: today
2moro: tomorrow
4: for, four
411: information
bcnu: be seeing you
f2t: free to talk
jic: just in case
jk: just kidding
l8: late
l8r: later
lol: laughing out loud
ruok: Are you OK?
thx: thanks
tx: thanks
u: you
xlnt: excellent
yr: your

This isn’t an exhaustive list, and it’s not like it’s as official as Webster’s, either. People pretty much just make this stuff up as they go along. In fact, you can make up your own abbreviations easily by following a few simple tips:

  • drop vowels when they’re not necessary (nt 2 hrd 2 gt ths trck)
  • utilize numbers or easily-accessible punctuation (c u l8r)
  • shorten up sentences and drop anything unnecessary, like “I think” or “please” or “hey, Patrick, listen to this” (will b @ home 30 min)

Have fun with it — and let me know if you’ve got any other great SMS abbreviations or tips for speedier texting!

Staying up to date with Yahoo! Alerts

by Dylan Tweney

Mobile search services like Google SMS are fine if you’re just looking for a bit of information and you don’t have a computer handy. But what if you want to stay right on top of the latest news, stock prices, sports scores, or other critical info — and you don’t want to go to the trouble of sending an SMS request just to check for updates?

That’s where a notification service like Yahoo! Alerts comes in. With Yahoo! Alerts, you enter your mobile number, sign up for the information you want, and then Yahoo sends you an SMS text message whenever there’s news.

You’ll need a Yahoo ID to sign up for this service. (You can create one for free if you don’t already have one.) Just go to alerts.yahoo.com and sign in. Then you can choose from a menu of alerts: sports scores, breaking news, weather, traffic, and even notices that a stock you’re tracking has moved up or down a certain amount. Once you’ve clicked on a menu item, you select additional detail (such as the city whose weather you want to know about) and tell Yahoo how you want the news delivered: via email, Yahoo! Messenger, or via mobile.

If you choose the “mobile” delivery option, you’ll need to register your mobile phone with Yahoo, a process that ensures you don’t sign up someone else’s number. The process has four steps but it’s not that hard: You need to tell Yahoo what your cell phone’s number is, what your carrier is, and what type of phone you have. Then Yahoo sends your phone a 5-digit confirmation code via SMS. Once you’ve entered that code in the Yahoo Alerts site, then your phone is ready to receive alerts from Yahoo.

Some of the alerts Yahoo offers (such as Movie Recommendations) are only available via email, not SMS — but most of them can be sent to your phone. If you want a convenient way to check the traffic, the market, or the news on your phone, it’s hard to beat the convenience of these alerts.

One caution: You can quickly run up steep text messaging charges if you’re receiving a lot of alerts. For that reason Yahoo lets you limit the number of SMS messages it sends you per day. Set this limit with care — a 10 message per day limit could still get pricey if you’re paying 10 or 25 cents per SMS.

Sprint SMS email how-to

31-07-2006 by Dylan Tweney

Got a Sprint PCS cell phone? Here’s what you need to know about using SMS text messaging with your mobile.

  • Maximum message length: 160 characters, including the sender’s email address, subject line, and callback number. Some former Nextel customers have a 500 character limit on web messaging.
  • What happens to longer messages: Everything after 160 characters will be cut off and discarded.
  • Cost per message: $0.15 per message sent and received. Sprint also offers bulk text messaging plans: $5 monthly for 300 messages/month and $15 monthly for unlimited text messaging.
  • For more information: Sprint SMS Text Message Details
  • Sending email to a Sprint phone: Use the address format [10-digit phone number]@messaging.sprintpcs.com
    Example: 2125551234@messaging.sprintpcs.com
  • If that doesn’t work, for multimedia messages, you might try [10-digit-number]@pm.sprint.com.

Sprint doesn’t publish its text-messaging (SMS) costs anywhere on its website. However, we’ve verified the prices here by checking with Sprint customer service.

Last updated 8/5/2015

Twttr (aka Twitter): Keep track of your friends via SMS

30-07-2006 by Dylan Tweney

One thing that SMS text messages are especially good for is letting your friends know what you’re up to. Heading out for a night on the town? You can text your friends so they know where to find you.

There’s just one problem: Texting 8 or 12 friends at a time can get tedious. That’s where social-networking web services come in: All you have to do is send a text message to the service, instead of texting a dozen people at a time.

The newest SMS social-networking service is twttr, and it comes from the people who created Blogger and Odeo. With twttr, you send status messages to a central location via SMS, and your friends (or optionally, the whole world) can check the twttr timeline and see what you’re up to.

UPDATED: twttr is now known as Twitter, of course, and it’s the hottest social-networking service since Facebook. We’ll have more tips about using Twitter via SMS here soon: Check out our tips on using Twitter with SMS text messaging.

To sign up for twttr, go to www.twttr.com and enter your cell phone number. Twttr will send a “key” code to your phone. Once you enter that code, and pick a username and password, you’ll have an account on Twttr. To let people know what you’re up to, just send a text message to the twttr short code: 40404.

For example, suppose you’re just about to go to the local sushi bar for dinner: Create a text message that says “I’m eating at Kaimuki” and send it to 40404. Off it goes, and in a few moments your status appears on the twttr timeline saying “eating dinner at Kaimuki.”

You can also update your status by entering a message on the twttr web site, which is easier if you happen to be sitting at a computer.

To find out what other people are doing, check the twttr public timeline or send twttr an info request via SMS. For example, to add your friend Karen to the list of people you’re friends with, send twttr this message:

add 415-555-1212 karen

(using your friend’s actual phone number, of course!). If she’s not already a twttr member, she’ll get an invitation to join.

After you’ve added your friend and she’s joined twttr, you can find what she’s up to by sending this text message to the twttr number, 40404:

get karen

You’ll get a text message back with the latest status update that Karen sent to the system. Simple!

Here’s a list of Twitter mobile commands that explains other commands you can send to the system via text messaging. So far there are not a lot of commands, and not a lot of people using twttr. But if you play around with it, you might find it’s a handy way to keep in touch with people or to have fun with SMS texting.

I’ll be experimenting with twttr a bit, and I’ll update this entry with more information as I discover it. I’d love to hear what you think about it, too.

Can I send an SMS to anyone, regardless of carrier?

28-07-2006 by Dylan Tweney

It’s a common misconception among Americans that they can only send SMS text messages to people who have the same cellular service provider. In other words, many of us think that if we’ve got a Sprint phone, we can only text our friends who are also on Sprint.

Not true! While this was the case for a long time, the American carriers (a.k.a. the cell phone companies) got together and sorted their differences out a few years ago. Imagine how much less valuable the Internet would be if people could only send email to folks who had the same ISP, and you’ll get a glimpse of why this is such a big deal for SMS.

In early 2002, the top five U.S. carriers all allowed their customers to exchange SMS messages with one another. Since then, nearly every carrier has worked out a way to send and receive SMS messages with every other carrier. This is what the cell phone companies call “SMS interoperability.” For ordinary users, it means that SMS text messaging just works. To send a message from your mobile phone to someone else’s, all you need to know is the recipient’s cell phone number.

Unfortunately, these companies never made a big deal about the change, so lots of Americans remained in the dark. It might just have been the first (and only) time when the cellular industry didn’t advertise enough. Go figure!

By the way, if you find that you can’t send an SMS message to someone because of their carrier, let me know — I’d love to hear of any examples where this is not working right!

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