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Text Messaging Adoption

Richard Boyd's message on cell phone trends in Italy, posted to the unwired list, has led to numerous responses, most notably this from Shawn Conahan:

[H]ere are some possible... reasons why text messaging is being adopted in Italy and Japan at a faster rate than in North America:
  • Calling Party Pays (CPP) -- In much of Europe, including Italy, the billing paradigm puts the burden on the initiating party for the cost of the call. The primary effect of this paradigm is more rapid mobile adoption. This makes sense because people would be more willing to accept an incoming call in general if they know they are not paying for it. Don't take my word for it -- here is a report from Rogers from several years ago identifying this concept as a key to mobile adoption. The secondary effect of CPP is a correlation to text messaging. Economics have historically (and presently, in CPP markets) dictated that it is cheaper to send a text message than to call someone. So what happens? Initially a bunch of people sending a text message to their friends saying, "Give me a call..." and ultimately a bunch of people sending back and forth text messages because they perceive it to be cheaper.
  • Cultural Issues -- I could explain how Japan's shame-based society limits interpersonal interaction and forces a layer of abstraction between the individual and the world around him or her, and the mobile phone is the technological evolution of this complex social layer allowing interaction within the limits of socially-acceptable behavior while broadening each individual's reach deeper into society. I could further explain that the West's guilt-based society promotes selfishness and worships wealth and success and our communication tools have evolved to serve this purpose in the most efficient manner possible and so mobile phones as person-to-person voice communication devices provide a level of efficiency of communication while satisfying a sort of personal communication solipsism that requires those around us to know that we are important enough to have a conversation in, say, a movie theater. But I better not. Such issues are undercurrents that one should allow to flavor their understanding of how our industry fits into society as a whole. Deepak Lal might refer to these concepts as "Unintended Consequences." Here is a good resource if such things matter to you. And a book review of the same.
  • Environmental Issues -- This one seems simple to most people. In the U.S., we drive to work. We drive everywhere because (as Numair pointed out) we have a lot of space and have to drive. This makes voice communication the most efficient mode for the environment in the U.S. In Japan they take the train at least an hour each way to work and they're not allowed to talk (on their mobile phones) on the train. In Italy they sit for hours per day at outdoor cafes sipping cappucinos already, so why not slip in a text message or two? The point is, cities with pedestrian traffic likely have a higher adoption rate of text messaging than cities with high personal vehicular traffic.
  • Competing Technologies -- We are currently in a Revolution of Increasing Expectations. Regis McKenna warned us to be prepared for the 'never satisfied customer' in his book Real Time. Compare text messaging in the U.S. with the other options I have available to me and it is no wonder I have no incentive to use it. I spend 10 hours per day in front of my computer. Instant Messaging has essentially replaced email for me. Going from IM to SMS is a step backward for me. Compare that attitude to consumers in Japan and most of Europe where a dearth of broadband penetration (or simple copper, for that matter) retarded PC adoption compared to the U.S. which retarded Internet adoption compared to the U.S. For many consumers in Japan, iMode was the Internet, or their first view of it, anyway. For many consumers in European countries, SMS was IM because penetration was lower at the same time that mobile penetration was higher than in the U.S. Going from IM to SMS is a difficult transition given my personal situation, but there are cases to be made on each side of the discussion. Here is some objective content on the matter to help you form an opinion.
Extremely well said.

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