Tag Archives: SMS

More on Facebook Re-Engagement: Accidental Post by SMS!

Facebook, like Twitter, has offered post-by-SMS for ages. That’s how you posted from your phone in the days before everyone had smartphones, before the mobile site was reliable, and before the app launched. And even after those options were widely available, it still takes a lot less bandwidth if all you want to do is post a short status.

Anyway, people are running into problems with it because…

  1. Facebook sends two-factor authentication-by-SMS from the same shortcode.
  2. They’ve has started sending re-engagement notices* via SMS to people who only wanted to use SMS for 2FA, not notifications.
  3. Hardly anyone remembers that Facebook does post-by-SMS.
  4. Everyone’s used SMS bots that react to “STOP” commands.

Replies to those re-engagement notices are going to the number used for post-by-SMS, so people are accidentally posting “STOP” (and the occasional more angry statement) to their profiles.

🤦‍♂️

Update (Feb 19): Facebook plans to deprecate post-by-SMS as a result of this fiasco. I wonder if they plan on keeping SMS notices for people who don’t want the app but do want alerts? ‘Cause removing that could also be a sneaky way of pushing holdouts to use the Facebook app instead of the mobile website + SMS notifications. (Hmm, can websites send notifications in iOS yet?)

*Facebook has always let you choose to get notices by SMS. Again, in the pre-app days, it was the only way you could get mobile notifications. Even now, if you don’t want to run the app on your phone for privacy or other reasons, but you do want notices for replies such, it’s a good fallback. But it sounds like Facebook has started sending extra notices as part of their win-back messaging.

Why Link Length Matters

Twitter writes that link length shouldn’t matter, but the zillions of URL shortening services out there show that, for now, it does.

But why?

There are two main reasons to shorten* a link:

  • There’s a technical limit, such as SMS message length or email line width.
  • You expect people to manually enter the URL.

Right now, with Twitter messages limited to 140 characters and links forced to share that space with the rest of the post, URL shorteners are critical. But they’re working on a plan to accept longer URLs, and specifically shorten them for SMS messages. The full link will be available on the Twitter website, desktop clients, and other platforms that don’t have that hard and fast limit.

That will cut down on the demand for shorteners, but they’ll still be useful.

For one thing, there are other microblogging platforms out there like StatusNet.

For another, there’s email.

IIRC, the first URL shorteners launched because email programs often break up really long lines, including really long URLs. In plain-text messages, that leaves links not just unclickable, but inconvenient even to copy and paste, because you have to copy each line separately and paste them together. This will continue to be an issue as long as people continue to put visible URLs in email.

And then there’s the human factor. It might not be easy to remember http://is.gd/cGE8V, but it certainly takes a lot less time to write it on a scrap of paper than http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/06/07/hard-to-port-eject-goose-eject/.

Which of those URLs would you rather type on your keyboard? Or worse, on your mobile phone?

*In this case, I mean making it really short and cryptic. There are plenty of reasons to keep links readable and sort of short.

G1 Sync & Texts Blocked? Check Your Apps!

Sometime last week I noticed that I hadn’t received some alerts sent by text message to my phone. I figured it was probably a transient problem with the email-to-SMS gateway and didn’t think much more of it. Then on Sunday I added a contact to my address book in Gmail, and it still hadn’t synced to my phone a half-hour later. Again, I figured it was just a hiccup.

Yesterday, some more email-to-SMS texts vanished into the ether. I figured something must be up with the gateway, so I changed the alerts so that they would also send to my Gmail account, figuring that if the text messages failed, I’d still get a notice.

They didn’t show up either.

That’s when I realized that nothing on the phone was actually syncing: Not Gmail, not the contacts, not the calendar…and it just wasn’t receiving text messages at all.

I tried turning sync off and back on, manually syncing, restarting the phone (both a hard reset cycling the power and a soft reset, sort of the Ctrl-Alt-Delete equivalent using the green, red and menu buttons together), even clearing all the local data for Gmail, Gmail storage, and Calendar storage.

Well, none of that worked. It marked all the apps for syncing, but wouldn’t actually start.

So it was time to backtrack: What had I changed recently?

Well, I’d updated several apps. Off the top of my head I could think of Twidroid Pro and the Weather Channel, but I couldn’t remember what else.

I’d also installed a new app, Layar, an augmented reality app which I’d seen in an ad for some other phone last week, but hadn’t actually gotten around to trying out. Adding it triggered a low space warning, but the phone still had 6.8 MB free, which ought to have been plenty.

Curiously enough, the last successful sync was right around the time that I installed Layar. Hmm…

Okay, what the heck. I uninstalled it. Within seconds, the phone bleeped and picked up the test messages I’d sent to Gmail. Within a minute, several text messages arrived, including my test from this morning and two alerts from last night.

Well, that was certainly suspicious.

So I installed it again, and this time actually opened the app to try it out (making it display the location of pizza places as seen from my desk), and sent myself a test message at Gmail. I can’t say I was surprised when the test message showed up on my desktop, but not on my phone, even when I manually refreshed my inbox in Gmail. Within a minute of uninstalling the app again, the message showed up.

So, no Layar for me. I don’t know if it doesn’t work with the G1, with Android 1.6, or with something else I have on the phone…or if it’s not Layar at all, and the phone just needs more space to sync.

The message is clear, though: If your phone stops syncing, or stops receiving text messages, look at what’s changed. There’s a good chance that the problem is related.

Update: It’s been about half an hour, and the voice mail notice just popped up…for a couple of messages I received on Sunday! It looks like the problem was blocking everything that used the standard sync/notify system on the phone. Twidroid was working, so I guess it must use its own system.

Update 2: I’ve confirmed that it’s just the low space, not the particular app, that causes the problem.

The REAL Problem with Twitter

Forget Ashton Kutcher and Oprah, forget #unfollowfriday, forget 25 Random Evil Things about Twitter — the key problems with the social media / microblogging / broadcast IM / whatever you want to call it service boil down to two problems:

  1. It asks the wrong question
  2. It was designed around limitations of cell phone text messaging

The Wrong Question

Twitter’s prompt is not something general like “What’s on your mind?” It’s “What are you doing?” That encourages people to post things like “I’m eating lunch” or “Just got into work,” or “Posting on Twitter.” Presumably what they mean is “What are you doing that you think people would find interesting?” but of course that’s too long a prompt from a usability standpoint.

The thing is, there’s no reason to broadcast the mundane to the world. Don’t tell me “I’m eating soup.” Tell me, “Just learned that gazpacho soup is best served cold. I wonder if they eat it in space?”

Unfortunately, that means the signal-to-noise ratio can get pretty bad at times.

Outgrowing its Limitations

Twitter posts are limited to 140 characters of plain text so that the your name and comments can fit in a standard SMS message. Now, this is great if you use Twitter via text messages on your mobile phone. It’s not so great if you use Twitter on the web, or through a smartphone app like Twitterific on iPhone or Twidroid on Android, or through any of the zillions of desktop apps.

I don’t have a problem with the 140-character limit itself (it can actually be liberating in a way), though it would be nice to have some formatting options beyond all-caps and *asterisk bolding*.

The real problem is that links have to share that limit. URL-shortening services have exploded lately as people try to squeeze links into the tiniest space possible to save room for their precious text. Even if you use something as short as is.gd, just including one link means you’re down to 122 characters.

Plus URL shorteners come with a host of problems, in particular the fact that they hide the destination. That’s no big deal if the target matches the description, or if it’s a harmless prank like a Rick Roll, but it’s all too easy to disguise something malicious.

Seriously, if you got an email that said something like this:

Look at this! http://example.com/asdjh

Would you click on that link? Even if it appeared to be from someone you know? That’s just asking to get your computer infected by a virus, trojan horse or other piece of malware. Or to see something you wish you could unsee.

Better Link Sharing: Facebook

I hesitate to bring up Facebook as a good example of anything, and I know the current layout is largely reviled by its users, but they really got posting links right.

When you want to post a link to your Facebook profile, you paste in the full URL. Facebook reads the page and extracts the title, a short summary, and possible thumbnail images. Then you have the normal amount of space to write your comment. Continue reading

5 Things I’ve Learned About Twitter

For the longest time, I figured Twitter was little more than a social toy. But after signing up two months ago, I’ve completely changed my view. Here are five lessons I’ve picked up.

1. There are many ways to use it.

Twitter asks the question, “What are you doing?” Some people answer that, and post things like, “eating dinner.” Some people ignore it and post other thoughts. Among the uses I’ve seen:

  • Running commentary throughout the day.
  • Random thoughts.
  • Announcements, particularly bloggers announcing new posts, or news sites announcing new articles.
  • Hey, look at this link I found. (The classic linkblogging post.)
  • Conversations with other users.
  • Even a story told one line at a time.

It can replace a blog, or complement it.  Mine started out just as another feed for updates, but I quickly realized I could post small stuff on Twitter and save the blog for the long posts like this one.

I’ve seen some people who post 20 times a day, and others who post once or twice a month.

2. Writing short posts can be liberating.

You don’t need to think of a catchy title. You don’t need to worry about structure. You don’t need to worry about fully developing an idea. And the rapid-fire nature of the site gives you a sense that you’re only worrying about now. No one expects you to be profound. All you have to do is jot down your thought and fire it off.

3. Writing short posts can be frustrating.

One of my high school teachers used to quote this adage: “If I had had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” It’s easy to ramble. It’s hard to edit. And it’s really easy to run into that 140-character limit, especially if you’re including a link (even if you use a URL shortening service like tr.im).

Sometimes I think what I want to say is short enough to fit, but I find myself spending several minutes trying to rephrase it, use shorter words, cut out unnecessary phrases, and, if I have to, abbreviate words just to cram it into that tiny space.

On the plus side, the result is usually very concise.

Continue reading