Text messaging: How many times a day do you do it?

Americans send about 20 billion text messages per month, according to a cell phone industry group that has apparently counted them all. Sound like a lot? That’s only 85 messages per month per cell phone subscriber, or not quite 3 per day.

By comparison, Korean teenagers are sending an average of 2,000 messages per month — 60 per day.

How many text messages do you send in a day?

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Skype Cuts SMS Fees In Half

As you may know, if you use Skype, you can send SMS text messages to your friends’ cell phones. Skype charges a small amount per message (less than your cell phone provider does) and makes it easy to send one SMS to multiple recipients, so this can be an easy and economical way to text several of your friends at once. Now, this week only, Skype has cut its usual SMS rate in half.

Between May 2 and May 8, Skype users who send SMS messages to recipients in the United States, Australia, Poland, Russia, Taiwan, Belgium, Thailand, Ireland, Austria, and Italy will be charged half the usual rate. Before the week-long reduction, Skype charged $0.112 per message sent to recipients in the United States, $0.088 to Australia, and $0.063 to Thailand.

That means it will cost only about five cents per SMS message to US cell phone addresses. Cheap!

Skype Cuts SMS Fees In Half

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Set up your own text-messaging service for free.

You don’t have to be a big company to set up a text-message auto-response system. With TextMarks, you can set up a quick-and-dirty text message information system for free. It’s a great way to stay in touch with your customers or friends, to promote your website or services, or just to provide useful information.

To use TextMarks for receiving information, you send short codes to the TextMarks number (41411). TextMarks then sends the information back that corresponds to the code you sent.

For example, someone set up the code “sftides” — so if you send an SMS containing the word “sftides” to 41411, you’ll get the latest ocean tides for San Francisco. The image of the phone on this post shows what you get when you send the code “kqed” — it’s what’s currently playing on the radio station KQED.

The brilliant part is that it’s really easy to set up your own TextMarks codes. You just need to pick a short code that isn’t already being used on TextMarks. Then you tell TextMarks what information to deliver when somebody sends that code to TextMarks. This could be a short piece of text, or you can tell TextMarks to pull a specific piece of information from a page on your web site.

Or, you can set up a subscription service — essentially an SMS mailing list — so you can send text messages to everyone who has subscribed. For example, if you send the code “ufos” you’ll be subscribed to an alert service for major UFO sightings. (Pretty useful if you anticipate an alien invasion!)

Whenever someone sends a text message with your code to the TextMarks number (41411), they’ll get an SMS reply containing the information you specified, or they’ll be subscribed to your info service if that’s what you’ve set up.

I set up the code “haiku” to send the latest poem from my daily haiku site. To do it, I had to tell TextMarks where to find the text of the day’s haiku on the site’s homepage. I did that by giving it information about two specific HTML tags. On your site, you might use something different.

It took all of about 5 minutes to set up the code and test it. Now anyone can get the day’s haiku just by texting “haiku” to 41411.

Some other TextMarks you can send to 41411 include:

leo, aquarius, virgo, etc: Daily horoscope for that zodiac sign
trackups [tracking number]: Shipping status for a UPS package
checkwoot: what’s on sale today at Woot.com
haha: joke of the day

There’s an extensive list of TextMarks on the site, and you can test each one out right on the web page using TextMarks’ handy simulator.

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Send yourself reminders via SMS.

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.

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Verizon Wireless increases SMS fees.

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)

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How to send anonymous text messages.

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.

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More SMS ads coming your way?

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

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Voting by SMS?

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!

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Cingular raises text messaging fee 50%.

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?

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mixd: Yahoo’s SMS networking service.

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)

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