Skip to content

Text messaging turns 20, has changed the way we communicate, and slows in the face of a new tech landscape

by Joe Murphy Librarian on December 3rd, 2012

Happy birthday SMS. The first text message was sent 20 years ago today, forever changing the ways we communicate. There are about 8 trillion text messages sent per year. Now the growth of text messaging is slowing down as the messaging arena evolves. What is in store for libraries?

The first text message was sent on December 3, 1992 by Neil Papworth from Newbury, Berkshire, UK.

It simply read “merry Christmas.” Now there are around 8 trillion text messages sent annually (250K/second). Texting has become the 2nd most popular use of mobile phones only after checking the time sms turns 20.

At first, text messages could only be sent from computers to cell phones and developers had no idea that SMS would take off. In just 20 short years text messaging has done so much impact the ways we communicate. I believe that SMS is one of the strongest examples of how technology changes can shift what we do and how we do it.

I find it particularly interesting that there was a 7 year lag in time before SMS really took off due not just to consumer uptake but to carrier and technical barriers. The potential for impact from tech changes can linger before it is maximized.

New Mobile Communication Arena:

SMS is beginning to step aside for other means of mobile communication.
For the first time is its history, the growth of text messaging been slowing down.
“In Q3 2012, for the first time, there was a decline in both the total number of messages as well as the total messaging revenue in the market.” ( “The average US mobile user sent and 678 text messages each month between July and September this year. That’s down from 696 a month between April and June.” (John Lister citing

SMS is not going away (it is still near universal access across mobile devices) but it has seen its peak. Meaning it’s time we plan for what’s next. I spend a great deal of time in my talks exploring how the mobile tech landscape is changing and where libraries should be looking next.

The tide of change comes with the increasing dominance of smartphones, a significant switch to data for messaging, and a confluence of trends including social integration, conversations around images, group messaging apps, embedded chat functions, and cloud integration. This shift may have been most evident with Apple’s release of iMessage. Other competing technologies include Facebook and its Messenger app (acquired and folded in Beluga), Twitter, mobile messaging apps including Kik (30 million users), WhatsApp (100 million Google downloads alone, recently enjoyed acquisition by Facebook rumors that turned out not to be true), Skype (acquired messaging leader GroupMe), even mobile email.

I found it noteworthy that Matti Makkonen mentioned “20yrs ago I didn’t see sms as separate issue – it was just a feature in the revolutionary mobile communications system. Very useful for quick business needs..” ( When conceiving plans for mobile services, each tech, including SMS represents a spot along an evolving continuum.

I like how the “father of SMS,” Matti Makkonen‘s hope for a future of tech includes “integration of mobile content display to my eyeglasses,” a real and growing arena of wearable tech that we’ll see take the mainstream in the next year or two (

Text messaging has presented libraries with opportunities and challenges old and new.

When I put text messaging on the radar for libraries my goal was to help libraries catch up to communication norms. Now I work to help libraries adapt to quickly evolving spheres of opportunity by helping them understand the major and shifting directions of the mobile communication landscape. This arena of technology changes all the time and libraries can, with some help, change to keep pace with the technology landscape.

I believe it is still a mistake for libraries to not leverage SMS. I still see some libraries focusing on IM. I also believe the heyday for texting has passed and library services should reflect that fact.

I worry that many libraries are still not using mobile devices for service provision, erecting false barriers between the library and its end users and isolating the staff. With the proliferation of smart phones there is less excuse for libraries to not operate services from a mobile device leveraging the cloud synchronization and data driven messaging.

What messaging services are you using at your library and which are you prioritizing?

- – Joe Murphy Librarian

From → news, technology

One Comment
  1. Joe Murphy permalink

    Here is some audio news coverage of this story from the BBC

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.