Costs Cause Twitter to Cut Off SMS to Canada

The thing one must admire about Twitter is how far they can cut back service while still retaining a rabid user base. This morning comes news that outbound SMS messages to Canada have been disabled due to rising costs.

Unexpected changes in our billing have forced us into a difficult situation with our Canadian SMS service. We can’t afford to support this service given our current arrangement with our providers (where costs have been doubling for the past several months.) As a result, effective today we are no longer delivering outbound SMS over our Canadian shortcode (21212).

There is a realistic, scalable SMS solution for Canada (and the rest of the world.) We’re working on that and will post more details on the Twitter blog as we make progress.

Note that you can still send messages to the shortcode and have them posted, that doesn’t cost Twitter anything, but you won’t receive any back. Shortly after this announcement went out to all users, b5Media’s Jeremy Wright made a good suggestion:

WTF?!!! TWITTER LET ME PAY FOR PRO SERVICE SO I CAN GET MY F*CKING SMS’S IN CANADA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Whether Twitter has a clear business plan brewing or not, a solution is obvious: people are willing to pay for services that have been disabled due to cost or scalability issues. Another suggestion would be a model similar to Flickr, wherein free accounts would be limited to a certain number of followers, and a yearly fee for more. The window to pull this off is closing, because sooner or later, a worthy competitor will emerge. The many early adapters that make up Twitter’s user base wouldn’t hesitate to migrate if a compelling alternative existed.

Perhaps the larger issue is that a text message, which amounts to no more than 200 bytes, can still command a price vastly higher than any other data service anywhere. Why should I be paying for “unlimited data” and an allotment of text messages? At the end of the day text messages, web access, email, and even voice calls are all just data, transmitting over the same network. Differentiating these different types of communication only serves the billing desires of wireless providers.