Is there still a role for SMS?

A recent article on ICTWorks asked whether smartphones were making SMS development projects obsolete. It’s an interesting question and one that begs a whole host of related issues: is radio really necessary when we have TV, is TV really necessary when we have online streaming, do we need newspapers in an age of digital news? The ICTWorks article was written specifically in the context of Papua New Guinea, but the question can be asked of almost any country and almost any technology (well, except maybe Betamax, the Mini Disc and the teleprinter). Actually, scrap that bit about the teleprinter – they’re still used widely in the aviation industry and, in an adapted format, for the hearing impaired.

In fact, the continued ‘popularity’ of the teleprinter long after it might be considered obsolete proves an important point. When you’re deciding which technology you should use in your development project, make sure you know what your intended users are actually using. Design an SMS project for people who mainly communicate via Snapchat and you risk being seen as out of touch and irrelevant. Likewise, devise a brilliant Twitter campaign only to find out that all of your users prefer voice calls and you’ve probably just wasted considerable time, effort and money. But it’s not always that clear cut – you may struggle to identify a particular demographic or group you want to reach and be faced by a situation in which some people use SMS, others prefer Facebook and still others would rather communicate face-to-face. Here you face a choice – financial or staffing constraints may limit you to using one or two types of tech. Choose wisely and you may still be able to reach out to a significant audience. Or, you may be lucky enough to be able to have a multi-platform approach – that’s great, but you still need to pick carefully. Social media sites, for example, often have significant overlaps in terms of users. Many of your users may flick between Facebook and Twitter and posting on both could risk annoying them by repeating the same message and diluting your impact.

Things are complicated by the fact that people may move from one platform to another and some forms of tech may drop out of popularity before making a comeback or dying altogether. You’ll never be able to reach everyone all of the time, but that’s normally fine. Any technology comes with its own particular barriers and problems, but recognising and accepting that is part of the solution. Some people won’t be able to afford your chosen tech, others might not have the necessary literacy skills and some will just decide that a particular platform isn’t for them. But ultimately it comes down to understanding what people do use and how – in this case, a little research upfront can help keep the wheels on your tech project.