The Mobile Application Server
Submitted by Eric Boduch
Co-Founder and CEO
January 3rd, 2013
SMS, text-messaging, is the single largest data service on the planet with over 4 billion people texting messaging each other regularly. Despite the of text-messaging, application developers and content providers have yet to make efficient use of this medium. There are many reasons for this… among these reasons is that text-messaging has technical limitations that prevent it from being used in *interesting* applications. Specifically, text-messaging lacks a session management layer. Think about the Internet before cookies and URL rewriting techniques were developed… The Internet was very static… you could request and get pages… But once cookies were developed, the Internet suddenly had commerce, transactions and personalization.
Here at SMaSh, we have been hard at work developing a “session-management” layer over text-messaging. With the SMaSh Platform we are introducing the equivalent of “Cookies for Text Messaging”. So now the same level of interactivity, personalization and commerce found on the Internet can occur via text-messaging!
So what does this mean?
Instead of receiving simple static alerts when a stock in your portfolio goes down…
You can now receive Actionable Alerts that will let you ask for and receive additional information… For example you may be able to request the trading volume, trend analysis or you may even be able to place buy and sell orders. Actionable alerts let you *interact* with received information!
Many flyers, posters, bill boards and classified ads have simple static text-messaging based calls-to-actions… These CTAs typically let consumers sign you up for alerts or provide the same information that is already on the ad they are looking at.
You will now be able to have truly interactive advertising… See a poster for an upcoming movie, buy movie tickets, download a ringtone or wallpaper as you are looking at the poster! Interactive Ads let you *buy* on the go!
Permanent Txt Presence:
Many brands, content providers and businesses are creating mobile web sites… However these sites can only reach the subset of their clients that have a web browser on their phones, know how to use them and have the appropriate data plan already set up.
Now they will be able to set up a permanent presence via txt, so their customers can interact with them via txt. These txt sites can be very similar to the mobile web sites they already have set up and allow all users, *regardless of phone type*, to interact with businesses.
Can’t I Already Do this?
No! Without a generic session-management system, like the SMaSh Platform, developing these types of applications over SMS is impossible. Without a full session management layer you can’t have persistent menu-based navigation, easy to use/understand mobile commerce or transactions.
You can’t have actionable alerts, interactive ads or permanent txt presence. To understand this a bit, let’s look some of the short comings of existing systems.
Existing systems get confused:
Say you’re hungry for Chinese food. You search for “Chinese” in your zip code using your favorite SMS-based search service. You get back a few Chinese restaurants with the option to get more results by replying “more”.
None of the restaurants win you over, however, so you decide to check a few sushi options before making any decisions. Again, you use your favorite SMS-based search service. This time you get back a few sushi restaurants with the option to get more results by replying “more”.
But seeing the list of sushi places only confirms your hunger for Chinese food. So you go back to the original list of Chinese restaurants and reply “more” to get additional Chinese results. Confusingly, the search service replies with more sushi restaurants. But you asked for more Chinese restaurants! What went wrong?
Without a full session management layer, SMS based applications can only maintain the most recent state of the application. As a result they make errors if you try to interact with multiple applications or if you try to respond to earlier messages. In short these applications are easily confused.
Existing systems are difficult to use:
Suppose you are monitoring several items on auction at your favorite internet auction site. When you receive alerts that you have been outbid on various items these alerts may provide you the option to rebid. But in order to enter the bid, they will likely ask for an item code” What happens if you misspell the item code or the item code is too long to remember?
You are looking at the message telling you about the item you were outbid on… Why can’t you just reply to that message to make a new bid?
Without a full session management layer, SMS based applications need the user to provide clues about what action they want to take. As a result they aren’t intuitive to use and prone to user error. In short these applications are difficult to use.
Existing techniques impose a very high burden:
The process of developing anything but the simplest SMS based applications is difficult. In addition to developing their application logic, programmers must also implement one off state management logic for running the application over SMS. The implementation of this state management logic is hard…
This is one of the reasons that all but the cleverest developers have shied away from developing anything interesting over SMS. And even the clever developers have implemented relatively simple applications. The cost of implementing all the session management layer probably surpassed the benefits of the application they were attempting to develop.
Without a full session management layer, SMS application development is overly complex. Even for the simplest applications, developers will need to implement their own one off session management systems. These systems will need to manage and abstract away tremendous complexity. In short existing SMS application development techniques impose a very high burden to implement *interesting* interactions.
How does it work?
The SMaSh Platform enables developers to focus exclusively on application logic. The SMaSh Platform enables web-developers to leverage their existing investments in development tools, methodologies and knowledge to develop interactive SMS applications within hours.
In fact, application developers develop interactive SMS applications using a well-defined subset of HTML. Some html tags have well defined text based semantics and are supported by the SMaSh Platform. While other tags don’t really have meaning in text messages and so are not supported. The SMaSh Platform takes care of running these HTML applications over SMS.
When user responses to transmitted text messages are received, the SMaSh platform takes care of figuring out what the user is trying to do (click on a link or submit a form) and invokes the correct action on the application.
How can I get started?
Also, we will be launching a developer’s portal shortly” Using the developer’s portal you will be able to register “test” keywords, bind your applications to that key word and be off and running.
Can I try it out?
We have a couple of demo applications set up that show you how our platform works. Test them out and let us know what you think. We will be posting another blog post explaining these applications and the results we are able to drive on behalf of content providers and advertisers.
Love it? Hate it? Have suggestions?