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Friday, November 7, 2008

SMS Texting Services

Texting services are becoming popular, with libraries beginning to really experiment in ways to best deliver this service to cell phone users.

Currently, many LibraryH3lp libraries are using various short code hacks, such as the "AIM hack" to offer this service. It works.

With the AIM hack, patrons text their message to 265010. In the message, they specify your library's AIM buddy name. If you have an AIM gateway in LibraryH3lp, those text messages show up for all of your librarians just like any other traffic coming through the system. If you are using our Pidgin plugin or our new webchat client, your librarians will be able to see that the patron is coming in through a phone number, which can tip them off that they need to provide brief responses.

Once again, this does work. The less-than-optimal thing about it is that the patron's cell phone can't usually store your buddy name to make repeat usage easier. The phone can store the short code (265010) just like a cell phone number, but not your buddy name. When they text their friends, they're generally texting a real phone number, which their phone can easily store for later usage.

We are interested in building a better kind of SMS gateway, one that would allow patrons to text an actual phone number, so that it would work exactly like it does when they are texting their friends and family. We have a couple of ideas about ways to make this happen. Is anyone interested in working with us to integrate a true SMS gateway into their LibraryH3lp service? We can't develop this independently because SMS messages must be purchased, and we don't want to push costs up for everyone on the system, even if they're not using SMS. A library would buy the messages for their use independently, and then we would build the gateway.


Ron said...

A text message can be sent to an email address, with no more expense than a normal text. This is certainly not very convenient to remember and to type with thumbs, but most phones support storing email addresses of contacts.

Chat over email may not be efficient, but the price is right!

-Ron DuPlain

Noel @Mosio said...

Hi Pam/Eric-

An SMS gateway is truly the only reliable, secure and scalable way to enable SMS Texting Services, so it's great that you're looking in that direction.

We're about to publish a white paper on the various ways to set up SMS/Texting Reference + the Pros and Cons of each so people can decide for themselves.

I won't get into all of them here, but the AIM hack has its own issues with privacy (showing/storing patron phone #s) not to mention limited support if things aren't working.

Texting to an email address still cannot be done on many phones, including the iPhone. Mobile carriers don't like massive texts to a single email address and have been known to block IP addresses (it happens all the time, automatically, with no warning). If it happens at a school library, for example, every student using that carrier will be blocked from texting to their own or others emails for that school.

Wow, realizing that's a lot of info. :)

Anyway, all of those things said, we really like what you're doing, have been working on SMS Reference Services for awhile now and would be interested in a conversation to see how we might be able to work together to help out.

Please feel free to touch base via our contact page at (I'd rather not post my email address here) if there is interest and we'll take it from there.


Text a Librarian

Alexa Leigh Pearce said...

Hi, we have been providing SMS reference at the NYU Libraries for just about one year. We are not using the AIM hack method, for many of the reasons you mention in your post. It is very exciting to hear that you are interested in building a real gateway. I would love to talk more about this and potentially participate in development. Please let me know if I can write to you directly about this. -Alexa Pearce, NYU Libraries

Pam Sessoms said...

Alexa, great to hear from someone who is already using an actual phone number! Sure, let's take it to e-mail. Eric and I have an idea brewing that might be a fairly straight-forward way to do this... THANKS for writing.