Note to Self: Avoid Bulk SMS

SMS is a ridiculous system of messaging. While I appreciate the simplicity and the limited characters (because it encourages short, concise messages); everything else about it feels archaic and cumbersome. The most obvious complaint is the cost. It is basically free to the carriers, but they charge extra for it, and god forbid you go over your allotted monthly messages if you don’t have an unlimited plan.

Beyond the end-user perspective, I now much more passionately loathe the texting system after spending countless hours baking it in as an integral part of a mobile application.

Bulk SMS is a joke. Companies who provide these services all seem to have terrible websites that are difficult to navigate. They also force you through an application process that makes any local Department of Motor Vehicles look like a well-oiled machine. After submitting an application, we were rejected over and over because the application did not meet guidelines that were not clearly written, or not written at all.  After several (gasp) months, our application had been approved by all but AT&T, who kept our application in limbo for another four months. After about 11 months, we had to completely update our program details and terms of service to meet new application guidelines that did not exist a year ago.

I don’t entirely blame the companies providing bulk SMS APIs.  The carriers are propping up this antiquated system of text messaging, presumably to maximize their profits with a mediocre (at best) service. The are not interested in helping bulk messaging services, because there is little (if any) money to be made compared with millions of teens who burn thru 25cent messages like breath mints during the prom. So I’m sure they are not putting a lot of time and money into getting new bulk services approved and running.

My advice, if you are thinking about building something that uses SMS as a core part of the service, re-think it. If you really want to use SMS as a supplement to your application, make sure you don’t depend on it. But really, you should avoid it entirely from the start.  It will save you headaches, time, money and many “are you f%#king kidding me?!” moments.

In the worst case, relying on bulk SMS services could delay release of your product by so long that you might be out of business before launch day.