Technology can be a wonderful thing. And then someone sends you a group text.
I’ve never been a big fan of texting, or SMS (Short Messaging Service) as it’s technically known. It’s quite useful for quick, informal messages. “Be there soon!” But it’s seldom used that way today.
The first text ever sent was in 1992 and said simply, “Merry Christmas.” In 2010 more than 6 trillion SMS messages were sent.
Back in the Eighties SMS was envisioned as a mobile network alternative to the Telex (no, not the band). Initially the size of each message was 128 bytes, but later increased. The arbitrary limit of 160 characters was determined to be “sufficient for conveying most messages.”
With the advent of multimedia and threading features the 160 character limit is no longer relevant, so today many people rely on SMS in lieu of email. That means a whole lot of those 6 trillion texts were neither short, informal or quick. But unlike email, there is no proper trail or error recovery for a text message. If you delete a message, break your phone or a message is lost in transit, well… you’re toast. And many people still have to pay to send or receive texts.
But the worst SMS pitfall of all is the dreaded Group Text. This mobile phone-based revival of the chain mail letter/email is an immediate etiquette quagmire. You’re suddenly forced into a group of meaningless phone numbers. Typically the perp is someone you know. Asking to be set free means you immediately look like a dick.
Fortunately there are alternatives. And they not only work great… they work better! Either of these solutions will send group or one-on-one instant messages without any text charges.
GroupMe is an SMS-based messenger that allows you to send a message to a group of people no matter whether they’re using a simple mobile phone, a smartphone, a tablet or even a desktop computer. The advantage here is you can include everyone in your private chatroom regardless of their gadget addiction or technical prowess. And it’s free.
Uncle Bill still using that Nokia flip phone? No problem!
Smartphone users will love the app. Available for iOS, Android and Windows phones, it allows the sharing of images, memes, videos and more. The location feature is especially helpful with its embedded map. Obviously Uncle Bill won’t be able to see all that on his flip phone… but at least he’ll know where the party is.
With over a billion users WhatsApp is one of the largest messaging services in the world. This alternative to SMS allows you to send free messages to your group. You can even make a free phone call, which is handy if you have friends in faraway places.
There is no charge for the service (in January a $1 signup fee was discontinued) and there are no ads. The WhatsApp Messenger is available for iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, Android and Nokia. There is also access via desktop/laptop using WhatsApp Web.
But Uncle Bill might have to upgrade the flip phone after all. Unlike GroupMe, there is no SMS option for WhatsApp.
There are other mobile apps that can fulfil the need for instant messaging, even though it might not be their primary purpose.
Slack is a perfect example. Geared toward business use, it offers quick and easy messaging amongst groups, teams or individuals. Plus is provides easy file and link sharing and a slew of integrations to do even more.
Another solution might be Google Voice/Google Hangouts. Voice allows you to send and receive free text messages. Use the number they provide or forward it to your own. Hangouts is the newer offering that allows anyone with a Google account to instantly chat, talk or video conference.
And yet another option is Viber. Similar to WhatsApp, it allows sharing of text, photos and videos. It’s all free… if the other person is also using Viber.
I hesitate to include Facebook Messenger, but I suppose it is an option.
So let’s end the madness of confusing, hard-to-follow group texts. Sure, it’s easy. But fortunately there are options– some very good options in fact.