SMS News

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December 17, 2014

How SMS is Helping Small Businesses in Latin America

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The second annual Latin American Bitcoin Conference took place in Rio earlier this month. More than 200 attendees saw seminars and panels featuring 37 guest speakers from around the world. 

Among the keynote speakers were a number of bitcoin representatives. The crypto currency is making a big impact across the region. A new partnership between Coinapult and 37 Coins seeks to expand bitcoin access to segments of the population without smartphones or traditional banking methods at their disposal. Their weapon? SMS messaging.

The service allows bitcoin users the world over to send and receive payments using only a feature phone with SMS capability. For entrepreneurs in South America, it holds the promise of allowing them to operate from remote areas, lessening the burden on over-populated urban centers.

This is a crucial development, not just for SMB owners, but for the public purse as well. Millions of small businesses across Latin America are currently restricted to cash-only transactions. This raises the question: how sure can local governments be that rural entrepreneurs are doing due diligence when it comes to paying taxes? It hardly takes a cynic to assume millions of pesos, bolivianos, reals and dollars are slipping through the net.

Of course, there will always be a black market. For some, operating outside the system is a point of principal. But for most small businesses, removing the temptation is all that’s needed to reduce corruption. Give them the tools to accept trackable, taxable payments and they’ll play ball, safe in the knowledge that the added security will help their business in the long run. Legitimacy is so much more attractive when it’s easily achieved.

A similar scheme – albeit with no SMS element – has been implemented in East African countries including Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. M-Pesain allows its 16 million users to send and receive money, pay bills and withdraw cash from local ATMs. 

SMS-based money transfer systems are providing the way forward in Latin America. Paraguay has Giros Tigo, which incurs a 5% commission fee. Brazil and Argentina have similar systems in place.

Bitcoin and text messaging seem to be a winning doubles team. The key beneficiaries are often people who face discrimination from financial institutions, which view them as risky prospect for credit. Entrepreneurs trying to make headway in these conditions find it difficult to send money, pay with credit cards or open a bank account – no matter how promising their ideas are. Nothing can match text message in terms of potential: four billion people worldwide are living without smartphones (perish the thought!) and the remittances market has found it’s most promising tool yet in SMS-enabled bitcoin transfers.

December 03, 2014

SMS Do-Over: The App That Lets You Delete Sent Messages

 

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You know the feeling. You’ve just hit ‘send’ on an incendiary/embarrassing/meaningless/meaningful (delete as appropriate) SMS and really wish you hadn’t. You’d give anything to delete it from the recipient’s phone.

Well now you can do just that – and you don’t have to give anything at all. Free text messaging app Wiper is generating ripples of excitement amongst online privacy advocates – but does it really work?

In short, yes. It may not be the smoothest messaging interface out there, but it does what it promises by allowing users to make calls, send texts and – most importantly – wipe messages that have already been sent. A pleasingly retro eraser animation scrubs the erroneous message and sends a notification to the recipient letting them know what’s happened.

The Wiper team are still working on solving the problem of screenshots; thus far, a recipient can still grab an image of the conversation, effectively nullifying the app’s primary function. However, Wiper will send you a notification to let you know a screenshot has been taken. At least you can prepare yourself for whatever shades of hellfire you imagine will rain down on you for your SMS slip-up. 

Wiper’s kill-switch takes the idea of text messaging as an ephemeral form of communication one stage further. The ex you ill-advisedly texted after a few beers may not be able to ‘unsee’ what you wrote, but at least they can’t show their friends or humiliate you by uploading it to social media. One tap, all gone.

But Wiper’s raison d’etre is about much more than destroying embarrassing tittle-tattle. CEO Manlio Carrelli sees privacy as one of the ‘big issues of our time’ and wants to bring the ideals of data protection to the general public.

Which is all well and good, providing we can trust yet another promising tech start up with our personal data. The app is not open source. We can only take the developers’ word that they will decisively destroy information from their servers once the erase command is given. With data protection such a high-profile, sensitive issue, a little cynicism has to be expected.

That said, the app makes a decent fist of allowing users to have freewheeling conversations just as if they were talking one-on-one, in person, with no fear of their words coming back to haunt them. You can also share YouTube videos instantly, simply by clicking on them from within the app. For the data deletion skeptics, this feature is probably more attractive than Wiper’s headline function. 

November 29, 2014

SMS Can Drastically Improve the Cost Effectiveness of Your Collections Process

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In the past, collections agencies have utilized automated calls and effective agents to receive payments from the overdue accounts of borrowers. These days, we have the advantage of automated digital options, including email and apps to help remind customers of their bills. One method has risen to the top recently, though – the SMS authorized payment. 

Due to the explosion in mobile traffic, lenders are turning to SMS as the principal way to reach the bearers of overdue accounts. Everyone has a mobile phone, and since they tend to carry them at all times, this has made the method of SMS authorized payments very attractive to lenders. Collections agencies are now reporting that SMS strategies for collections have the highest rate of successful repayments.

 

Reduction in Expenses

The benefits to lenders are clear. SMS authorized payments reduce costs for the lender, while providing a superior customer experience. Studies show that SMS payments cost lenders about one-quarter of the amount required for automated voice services, and only a tenth of what it costs to pay an agent to secure collections.

 

Customer Preference

In addition, customers prefer digital contact with lenders rather than with a direct agent. There are many reasons that borrowers lean toward digital contact: Agents can be more difficult for customers to interact with, and digital methods are less embarrassing and intrusive for borrowers.

Provided that a lender abides by all privacy laws while leaving preferences up to the customer, most customers will choose to pay through interactive SMS correspondence. Options must be provided for each borrower: should a customer decide to pay using another method, the lender should work to allow for these changes. As always, any and all payments must be allocated by the collections system, regardless of method.

 

Integration 

SMS technology is also one of the easiest methods to incorporate into established collections systems. Once receiving the SMS past due alert, the customer can pay by phone or click through to the website in order to create a payment plan, chat with a live agent, and schedule future payments. It is on the website that the customer should be given the option to manage their payments through SMS authorized payments according to their schedule. These preferences should include the best way for the lender to contact the borrower as well. Creating ease-of-use online will drastically impact your opt-in text list.

All in all, SMS authorized payments are the wave of collections’ future. Consider the benefits to your agency, and the peace of mind you will provide for customers. 

November 25, 2014

How SMS Marketing Drives Black Friday Sales

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SMS marketing impacts Black Friday sales in a big way. Since it’s the biggest shopping day of the year and the beginning of holiday shopping activities, marketing campaigns announcing Black Friday sales are everywhere...including on mobile devices. And really, what better way to advertise Black Friday deals and events than with SMS? The vast majority of consumers own mobile devices, which they have turned on (and carry on their person) at all times. Ninety-five percent of marketing messages sent via SMS and MMS are opened, so crafting marketing campaigns around mobile devices makes a whole lot of sense, as many retailers have discovered.

Businesses use SMS to deliver sales alerts to customers, as well as exclusive coupons, video clips, and much more. All help ensure customer loyalty and holiday business; and when the holidays are over, businesses have a whole new database of customers opted-in to loyalty programs. This means alerting customers to sales events and new products all year long.

 

Black Friday: 2012

According to IBM, mobile shopping increased considerably in 2012 compared to 2011, with 24% of customers using a mobile device to visit retailer sites. Some 16% of shoppers used a mobile device to shop in 2011. In 2012 the iPad was the main device utilized for online shopping, followed by the iPhone and the Android. And while shoppers used social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to express gratitude about great deals and sales in 2012, that number decreased from the previous year. Shoppers referred from social networks made up .34% of online sales in 2012, a decrease of over 35% from 2011.

 

Black Friday: 2013

Last year, the amount Black Friday shoppers spent over the two-day Thanksgiving holiday rose 2.3% compared to 2012. Online sales also increased--20% from the previous year on Thanksgiving and 19% on Black Friday. Amazon.com attracted consumers by offering deals and discounts every 10 minutes, while Walmart processed some 10 million register transactions from 6pm to 10pm on that shopping day.

 

Black Friday: This Year

Social media may not play as prevalent a role in consumer shopping this year, however SMS marketing is certainly aiding retailers in their efforts to increase holiday revenue. Whether retailers will choose to implement new SMS strategies during the holiday season has yet to be seen, but one thing’s for certain: mobile marketing allows businesses to alert customers to Black Friday deals quickly, easily, and earlier than ever before. And with a simple click-through of a hyperlink, SMS receivers can make fast and easy mobile purchases. That means bigger sales, satisfied customers, and happier business owners this holiday season with SMS marketing.

November 14, 2014

How to Text in OS X Yosemite

Apple recently introduced iOS 8.1, and with it activated SMS text forwarding from iPhone to OS X Yosemite. This makes it possible for users to read, send and reply to cellular-based messages directly from Mac computers and iPads in addition to iPhones. And while texting forwarding is “off” by default, turning it on is as simple as connecting to and setting up an Apple TV. So how does it work? 

The first step is navigating to Settings on an iPhone featuring iOS 8.1, where you’ll see a new option entitled “Text Message Forwarding” just below the iMessage toggle switch. It features the wording, "Allow your iPhone text messages to also be sent and received on other devices signed in to your iMessage account."

Select this option to bring up a menu pane of devices, such as the Mac Pro or the MacBook Pro, with each featuring the ability to “connect with and transmit text messages to and from your iPhone.” Choose which device you want to connect to and you’re almost finished. 

Let’s say you activate a MacBook Pro to receive text messages. You’ll receive a six-digit prompt in Messaging for Mac, which you’ll need to enter on your iPhone. Enter the passcode and voila: the devices are now paired, allowing you to receive and send SMS and MMS messages.

Should you receive a message not stored in your Contacts, you’ll get a Notification Center alert along with the unidentified number. Reply directly from this window as you would an iMessage, or click the alert to open your Message app.

Text messages sent from Mac devices are green, the same as iOS, to help users keep track of how many messages they’re sending. The conversation pane in Messages also features a small informational line of text, which indicates what number the text is being sent to or received.

Users may also begin text conversations by highlighting numbers in other Mac apps such as Safari, Spotlight, Calendar or Contacts. Share sheets are available as well, making it easy for rich content such as pictures to be sent through MMS. However, early testing found that while texts from numbers linked to existing contacts did appear with correct identification, results were “spotty.” Numerous tests found known numbers that “failed to trigger correct caller ID on the alert,” and instead appeared in line with iMessages from the same person sometime later. 

As soon as this kink is worked out, texting in OS X Yosemite will likely become the next big thing in the world of mobile.

November 06, 2014

Gif-ify Your Texts with Popkey

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For millennials, it’s no longer enough to simply send a text message. There has to be some other ingredient. A video. A photo. A song. Look at any SMS thread from an under 30 and you’ll likely see a string of weird and wonderful emojis. 

Now it’s GIFs. The resurgence of GIFs is something few would have predicted ten years ago. In the mid-noughties, GIFs were outdated, a relic from Web 1.0. As soon as the internet had been around long enough to start witnessing retro fads, the GIF was back with a vengeance.

A new iPhone app is helping users easily find and share animated GIFs in order to express their emotions via SMS. PopKey takes advantage of Apple’s GIF-supporting Messages app in true style. 

It’s not the first GIF app, per se. Ultratext and others have come before it, but PopKey is the first to successfully integrate GIFs into a text messaging keyboard, without having to open a separate app. Here’s how it works: 

Users switch to the PopKey keyboard and search for an appropriate keyword. The results returned will be a list of static images which, once clicked on, will preview the GIF as a thumbnail. Simultaneously, PopKey copies the animation to the phone’s clipboard for easy pasting. Even if you like a particular GIF but opt not to use it, the app saves it in a favorites folder for easy future access.

There are a few drawbacks. PopKey’s GIFs aren’t particularly high-res. The app chooses speedy transmission over quality. And although you can upload new GIFs to the app, it requires you to grant access to your contacts and invite them to the service – something not everyone is willing to do. It also brands every GIF with the PopKey logo. Understandable, but slightly annoying.

But compared to emojis, PopKey’s GIFs get the job of conveying emotion done with a little more style, and a cool retro flourish.

November 03, 2014

Text Messages Now Considered 'Official Government Documents'

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Imagine getting fired over a text message.

The United States House of Representatives decided in September of this year to include text messages “among the electronic communications federal employees could be fired for improperly destroying.”

Called the Federal Records Accountability Act and introduced by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., it addresses any federal employees an inspector general found knowingly “concealed, removed, mutilated, obliterated, falsified, or destroyed any record, book, or other thing” controlled by the offending employees. Republicans and Democrats alike supported the bill, which was approved unanimously by voice vote.

The bill also prevents federal employees from using personal devices to conduct official business unless an electronic record of the communication is created. All email, instant messages or text messages sent from a personal device regarding agency business must be officially recorded. A worker found guilty of manipulating records would face suspension and receive a written statement of the charges within 15 days. The worker can defend him or herself in the 15 days after receiving the notice, and has the right to a Merit Systems Protection Board hearing and appeal.

Meadows says the bill is “common sense legislation,” and that it will improve transparency and historical preservation.

“Intentional destruction of records is a criminal act,” Meadows noted. “Federal employees found guilty of such a crime should be fired.”

Scandals at the Internal Revenue Service and Environmental Protection Agency prompted the bill, as employees of each were charged with purposefully destroying records. Criticisms by lawmakers concerning federal managers using personal devices for official business is nothing new, however.

“It wasn’t one agency,” Meadows said, “it was plethora of agencies that have communication going on a regular basis that isn’t being preserved.”

Yet the Project on Government Oversight does not fully support the bill as the optimal way to deal with the transparency issues raised by the IRS and EPA scandals. Joe Newman, a POGO spokesman, told Government Executive the bill was “too narrow” and mainly punished “whistleblowers.”

“We're always happy when Congress moves to increase transparency and accountability but we're not sure this bill is the best way to do that,” Newman said. “There are long-standing problems with federal record keeping practices that need to be addressed but it might be a better approach if Congress looked at the system as a whole, rather than tailoring legislation to address a specific scandal.”

Some government agencies, such as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, are expanding use of Short Message Service (SMS) technology to provide better services. It has also been suggested that government text messages should be used in other ways. Texting is most popular among young people, and could be a vehicle for the Department of Health and Human Services or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to send anti-smoking messages.

 

 

October 20, 2014

Baltimore Maps Addiction with Text Messaging

SMS Messaging has had a major impact on healthcare processes. Everything from appointment reminders to internal communications in hospitals are being achieved more effectively than ever, and it’s all down to the humble text message.

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In recent years, one of the most powerful applications of this technology has taken place in Baltimore, where it’s being used to help addicts in recovery. A National Institutes of Health lab located in East Baltimore provides methadone and testing to the addicts who attend. Unlike many other rehab programs, addicts don’t get thrown out if they relapse. Why? Because the data they can provide is far too valuable to researchers investigating the causes of relapses.

This data is being gathered via smartphones specifically programmed to help struggling drug users track their cravings and relapse episodes. The phones beep randomly throughout the course of the day with a text message asking questions like: Where are you? How are you feeling? What are you doing? Who are you with?

The scheme aims to identify the events and situations surrounding relapses. What are the events, places and people that trigger drug use? What happens in the precise moment an addict decides to use? 

In addition to cell phones, addicts carry GPS loggers to track their movements. Researchers can see the whereabouts of participants, identifying particular blocks or parts of town that precipitate a relapse. Knowing the location of an addict when they use – or think about reusing – is helping the team better understand the patterns of behavior that lead to a relapse.

The scheme is not the first SMS-based solution to treating addiction. Problem drinkers have been helped by a text message program that monitors their alcohol intake. Participants took weekly surveys and, depending on their responses, received automated text messages containing words of encouragement or recommendations for limiting alcohol consumption. The results showed that, on average, heavy drinkers can cut their intake by up to half by using such a scheme.

The nature of the platform is well-suited to self-monitoring and the setting of short term goals. People generally carry their phones everywhere, making them the perfect tool for reminding people to stay aware of unhealthy behaviors. Even just being told to ‘hang in there’ can work wonders for problem drinkers who are trying to keep on top of their alcohol intake. Mobile technology gives addicts a pocket clinician-cum-counselor that won’t let them down.

October 02, 2014

How Smartphones Are Helping the Fight Against Drug Addiction

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Can smartphones help users overcome drug addiction? 

Research says Yes! Back in 2011, an 80-person study by the National Institutes of Health found smartphones highly beneficial to those overcoming drug addiction. The study was based out of East Baltimore, Maryland and featured smartphones programmed to let addicts track when they craved and used drugs. Phones were set up to beep randomly three times each day, and ask questions such as “Where are you?”, “What are you doing?”, and “How are you feeling?”.

"We want to know the events surrounding that," lead researcher Dr. Kenzie Preston said at the time. "We're really interested what's triggering drug use, relapse."

Phones were partially disabled to lower their street value; however, associate scientist David Epstein noted no issues with phones becoming lost or getting stolen.

"We tell them, if you lose or break one of these, we'll replace it and that's fine," he said. "But if you lose or break a second one, we're going to detox you from the methadone and you can't be in the study anymore. And we hardly ever have to do that. People know that they'd rather stay with us."

The study was meant to pinpoint the precise moments addicts decided to use, as Epstein remarked on the difficulty addicts have recalling the specifics of their relapses. This isn’t to say addicts lie about their relapses; rather it’s more about how the brain functions.

"People, whether it's someone who's addicted to drugs or anyone else in the world, make up stories that sort of explain their behavior," he said during the study. "But if you could've been monitoring them in real time, you would see that things didn't happen quite the way they remembered."

Smartphones allowed researchers to obtain data in real time. The study also included addicts carrying pager-sized GPS monitors to track their movements, which made it easy to log where addicts go. For example, an addict could be sober for weeks, then visit a certain block or neighborhood and have a relapse. Knowing where addicts were hanging out helped researchers understand what type of environments encouraged drug use.

Epstein said the study could lead to new smartphone-based treatments.

"A sort of clinician in your pocket," he said. "You can give them on the spot feedback... and that does seem helpful."

 

 

September 30, 2014

SMS: Crime Fighter

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Text messaging as a mobile marketing tool is standard practice across most industries, but the public sector is also harnessing the power of SMS. Healthcare, emergency services, schools - all are benefitting from the possibilities opened up by the speed, affordability and convenience of mass texting.

One of the most significant applications of text messaging is in the fight against crime. Earlier this year, the four major wireless carriers began offering free text-to-911 services. Police departments across the country are realizing what mobile marketing campaign managers have long understood: there’s no greater guarantee of effective communication than SMS. Victims of crime can surreptitiously send text messages in dangerous situations where making a phone call may be impossible, and law enforcers can use SMS to streamline their processes and thus become more effective. Let’s take a look at some of the most innovative uses of SMS messaging in the fight against crime.

Tip Offs

A number of local police departments have set up shortcodes allowing members of the public to anonymously tip the police about a crime they have witnessed. In Bakersfield, CA, citizens have been providing law enforcers with valuable tips for some years; Kern County runs a similar program. In both cases, police stress that these channels are not intended for emergency situations requiring immediate attention, but for anonymous tip offs from people who may not otherwise feel comfortable reporting crime.

Campus Crime

In Tennessee, local authorities are encouraging students to report crimes anonymously. When the scheme was rolled out in 2009, Sgt. Charles Warner from the Franklin Police Department said that young people “don’t want to be labeled as ‘snitches’... they don’t want to be retaliated against and they’re fearful of that.” But many young people are happy to report, say, a student who brings a gun to school, or is dealing drugs on campus. The first police department in the state to launch a text message tip program, other precincts soon followed suit, and similar programs are now widespread all over the United States.

Human Trafficking

Based in Washington, D.C., the Polaris Project runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which accepts calls and texts 24/7. A Washington Post story recounted the plight of one 18-year-old sex-trade worker who alerted the authorities via text message from her pimp’s phone. Police arrested the man shortly after. An app called Redlight Traffic goes further still, with an educational component designed to teach citizens how to identify tell-tale signs of human trafficking and give them a way to combat it.

Law enforcers believe such programs can improve public understanding of potentially criminal situations, even when no actual crime has been witnessed. Citizens can report suspicious behaviour to the app, upload photos and GPS locations, and provide information on vehicle registrations and personal descriptions. Officers can review individual reports and map suspicious activities to improve their chances of being there when a crime is committed. It’s an ideal solution for members of the public who are unsure whether to call 911, but believe they have witnessed potential wrongdoing.

Misdemeanors

It’s not just serious offences like trafficking and gun crime that are being tackled by SMS messaging. Minor misdeeds which clog up law enforcement processes can be prevented by improved communication between the police and the public. In Moscow, drivers can sign up to receive a text alert 20 minutes before their car is about to be towed. When the program launched in June, officials predicted monthly savings of up to $2.6 million.