Text Messaging vs. Mobile Instant Messaging

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_photka'>photka / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Over the course of the last year, I have noticed a rapidly rising organizational  interest amongst my clients in using “text messaging” for communications purposes; specifically for opt-in notifications. The main reasons are quite obvious:

  • 26.3% of Canadian households have no land-line (Convergence Consulting Group, 2014)
  • The smartphone penetration rate is now at a staggering 63% in Canada (Ipsos, 2013)
  • 96% of smartphone users text message (Acision, 2013)
  • 98% of text messages are read, compared to 22% of emails, 29% of tweets and 12% of Facebook posts (Frost & Sullivan, 2011)
  • Email sucks (everyone)

I have noticed however, that there is some semantic confusion between various forms of “texting”.  For this reason, I have decided to clarify the key terms below:

Text Messaging

The act of composing and sending a brief, electronic message between two or more mobile phones, or fixed or portable devices over a phone network. The term originally referred to messages sent using the Short Message Service (SMS). It has grown to include messages containing image, video, and sound content (known as MMS messages). Text messages can be used to interact with automated systems to, for example, order products or services, or participate in contests.

Direct Text Marketing

Used by advertisers and marketers to SMS message mobile phone users about promotions, payment due dates, etc.. instead of using mail, e-mail or voicemail.

Mobile Instant Messaging

Mobile instant messaging (MIM) is the technology that allows instant messaging (i.e. essentially SMS/MMS over the internet as opposed to a phone network) services to be accessed from a portable device, ranging from standard mobile phones to smartphones (e.g. devices using operating systems such as Android, Blackberry OS, iOS, Symbian OS, Windows Phone, et al.). It is done two ways:

  • Embedded clients – tailored IM client for every specific device (e.g. WhatsApp, WeChat)
  • Clientless platform – a browser-based application that does not need to download any software to the handset, and which enables all users and all devices from any network to connect to their Internet IM service. In practice, browser limits can pose problems.

The main advantage of mobile instant messaging is that it allows for seamless video, photo and text chatting, with multiple people (organized into groups) across any device, using either wifi or your data plan. Think of it as an evolution of SMS and essentially what MMS set out to be, but never really accomplished since the channel had too many technical limitations.  What I find amazing, albeit not surprising, is that already in 2013, more WhatsApp messages alone were sent globally than all SMS messages put together.

In Summary

Having said the above, it should be noted that when you hear someone using the term “texting” as a verb, it typically signifies either one of the above terms. And even though its own name has outgrown itself (i.e. it excludes video and photo messages), chances are the term won’t go away any time soon as “mobile instant messaging” is just too much of a mouthful.



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