Sunday, March 23, 2008

10 Things to Know About Short Codes

Most likely you’ve seen cell phone “short codes” when advertisers slap them on candy wrappers or big media brands like American Idol
create text message-based voting campaigns. You know, text a message to
this 5 or so digit mobile code and get some free stuff you don’t really
want. But more smaller organizations and communities are turning to
short codes with the help of startups like Mozes and TextMarks. And mobile companies like 3Jam and Embrace Mobile are using short codes to power their services.

Do you need one? If you want to market or promote something to
mobile users, manage mobile communications to members of a group or
organization, or get cell phone users to access your mobile application
or service — then, maybe. How much are you willing to spend and what
kind do you need? Here’s 10 things to know about short codes, how to
get them and what to avoid:

1). There are two kinds of short codes, shared and
dedicated. Dedicated short codes are dedicated for one customer, and
are costly and take awhile to set up – in the U.S. it can cost anywhere
from $15,000 to $30,000 per year and take two months to get it ready.

2). Shared short codes are shared among customers
and use keywords to identify their traffic. The cost of these is pretty
small, and you can access these services from companies like Mozes and
TextMarks. Mozes has been actively signing up bands while TextMarks has
been working on organizations and local communities.

3). If you want to obtain a dedicated short code in
the U.S., you have to choose between vanity or select (hand-picked) and
random codes. It’s like picking a license plate. Vanity codes cost
around $1,000 per month just to register and random short codes cost
about half that.

4). Registration of dedicated short codes is only
part of the process if you want your own code. You’ll probably want to
go to one of the dozen or so SMS aggregator companies that have
relationships with different carriers like Clickatell, or VeriSign. Research prices and compare as they are all trying to undercut each other.

5). The method of obtaining and using short codes
is different in different countries — don’t assume it’s a global world
when it comes to carriers and use of short codes. Particularly the U.S.
is somewhat more difficult than many other countries.

6). It’s also not like the open Internet, and
carriers can shut you down any time they want if you do something they
don’t like. Often startups that have created mobile applications using
short codes find out they’ve been snubbed when the service goes dead
over one carrier or the other. Fun!

7). If you are a content provider you can’t have
any fun either. According to the CTIA site you generally have to:
“Agree not to transmit political marketing (news is acceptable),
religious, pornographic, prostitution/escort, gambling, hate, alcohol
or drug related content.” Wonder how FAITH and PLBOY (see below) are
working that out.

8). Carrier control is frustrating for a wireless
startup or a third-party application provider but sometimes a modicum
of control makes a better experience for the customer (only sometimes).
It’s good for a carrier to stall applications that can mess up systems
or wreak havoc on end users.

9). If you text HELP or STOP to a short code, the
service should respond. This is implemented to help users end or learn
more about the short code service, and is useful for managing and
finding these services.

10). Here’s a site that pulls together a lot of registered short codes.
I can’t verify the accuracy of all of them (some worked with HELP/STOP
and some didn’t), but some vanity codes on this list might inspire you:
COKE, 20FOX, FAITH, FBOOK (Facebook), GAWK (Gawker Media), MYSPC,
(MySpace) PLBOY (PlayBoy).

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