|Issue:||Asia-Pacific I 2012|
|Topic:||Democratizing SMS content creation to build user communities|
Dinesh Saparamadu is the Founder and CEO of hSenid Group of companies, which he originally founded 14 years ago, after returning from USA. In the United States, where he lived for over ten years, he worked at Pepsi-Cola, Aetna life and Casualty, in various fields of Information Technology. Mr Saparamadu leads hSenid Mobile to provide cutting edge Telecom software and Service delivery solutions for Mobile Operators in emerging markets. He directs hSenid Mobile’s vision for simplifying the Mobile Operator’s back end systems so that a rich array of mobile content and services is available for subscribers to enjoy.
hSenid Mobile was named at the Red Herring Global 100 Award as one of the most promising private IT companies in the world. hSenid Mobile’s flagship solution – the Cloud Telco Application Platform, won the m-Infrastructure award at the mBillionth South Asian Awards recently, for creating an eco-system of Telecom & Mobile Applications/content for the masses.
Mr Saparamadu is the current Chairman of SLASSCOM, IT & BPO Chamber in Sri Lanka. He also serves on many advisory boards on IT education, competitiveness, and IT policy.
Dinesh Saparamadu holds a Computer Engineering B.Sc. and Computer Science Masters from University of Bridgeport in USA.
SMS has been used to deliver simple content (alerts, votes, quizzes) for some time, but now there is an opportunity of User Generated Content (UGC) on SMS. This service is based on blending web technology with mobile technology, where large number of applications can be accommodated with little incremental cost. Provided that application creation is simple and requires no programming skills, anyone could generate content and share it with a community of followers. Thus, UGC on SMS is said to ‘democratise’ SMS content. Revenues from numerous Long Tail services created by this ecosystem can far outweigh the total revenues from few traditional SMS content providers.
Since the world’s first text message ‘Merry Christmas’ from Neil Papworth to Richard Jarvis in December 1992, SMS turned into a highly popular text-based complimentary mode of personal mobile communication. It has evolved from being a personal tool to a major business related communication facility.
Text based content delivery via SMS has been popular for a while but the content has always been created and controlled by established entities, such as Mobile Operators, media houses, large content providers and aggregators, and not by the ordinary, non-technical subscribers, who would like to share uninhibited forms of creativity with someone out there.
Meanwhile the mushrooming communities of online social networks have brought about two important lifestyle changes. One is the transition into a participatory culture in which users co-create the content they wish to share and consume, and the other is the freedom of users to choose the space in which they wish to share their content. Users today chat, gossip, blog, vote, tag, distribute on-the-fly and participate in communities that cater to their needs.
Placing User Generated Content (UGC) on an SMS platform, with its ubiquitous nature, offers a great potential. The technology platform should combine web-based content technology and mobile delivery technology to offer an easy way for subscribers to create their own applications and reach their communities.
Why UGC on SMS?
Ubiquitous… Widespread… Affordable… Popular…
These are just few of the reasons why SMS is a preferred platform of communication. The same features will encourage UGC on SMS to blossom. SMS cuts across boundaries and communities and always gets there – a particularly significant feature in emerging market. SMS is available on any mobile device, compared with other technology, such as the smart phone, that serves only those who can afford them. Using SMS enables anyone to participate in an eco-system of knowledge sharing and disseminate textual content to anyone.
What about the Technology to make it happen?
For UGC to be realized on SMS, we need an environment that simplifies the whole process of content creation. Taking a leaf out of the online social media phenomenon, SMS will have to provide a similar infrastructure for SMS-UGC to succeed. It must have quick and convenient access, easy set up and an even easier method to send out, share and receive messages.
The system needs to provide full convergence of web and mobile technologies, with a simple-to-use wizard to aid application creation without any form of programming. This can go a long way in encouraging creative, yet non-technical, aspiring content providers. The online wizards for content creation could be based on the most commonly used SMS content methods such as alerts, voting or quizzes, to enable easy understanding, bring familiarity and encourage take up.
A New breed of Content providers
A user-friendly environment can generate significant interest, starting with the early adopters testing it out, followed by the rest. Content creators can come from all walks of life. They can include a university student who wishes to conduct a snap poll to elect a union president, or an inventive housewife who wants to enlighten those interested with some clever cooking tips. Content may be generated by a multinational enterprise or a very small business, wanting to alert customers to new product launches or special offers and discounts. With its universal reach and simplicity, the technology to enable UGC on SMS must accommodate content-creators from the full spectrum of life, thus democratizing SMS content creation.
The Long Tail serving the underserved
Democratizing SMS content and app creation creates opportunities for Long Tail services that cater to the most remote market segments. The ultimate success is an eco-system where everyone has content for his or her own liking to engage with, leading to communities of followers around specific areas of interest. Traditionally SMS content would not be produced, for instance, for a group of housewives from a small neighbourhood subscribing to content from one of their own, dealing with something as personalized as family tips, counselling etc. However, this should be the true essence of democratized UGC on SMS.
Potential Business Models
The onus of coming on board, creating content, developing and sustaining a community of followers is on the content providers. To incentivize them and accelerate the uptake of the eco-system, they should be rewarded with a share of the revenue they help to generate, in proportion to the size of the following that they are able to attract. Enterprises creating content can have a different model, to sponsor the content that is going out on behalf of their following, so as to fulfil their commercial objectives.
Where do Mobile Operators stand in all of this?
The Operator can become a host for abundance of apps and content rather than a limited range governed by established content providers. To illustrate the unexploited potential Mobile Operators have if they democratize content creation, let us look at a simple business case comparing traditional SMS content and the UGC on SMS. An Operator may have had ten established SMS Apps generating 30,000 messages a day, which is a total of 300,000 messages. In the case of UGC on SMS, they may find 10,000 SMS Apps, each with maybe an average of 300 messages a day, totalling 3,000,000 messages, i.e. ten times as much!
The sustainability of the UGC on SMS model depends on limiting capital expenditure and reducing incremental costs to the operator. With a web-based platform that can accommodate thousands of apps with minimum incremental costs, the operator does not need to spend precious time on each application, to decide whether it is going to be a hit or not. The Operator would simply launch the application and watch how it performs, instead of playing a guessing game. Additionally, since the application has very low incremental cost, even if it generates only few messages per year, it can still be considered to be pro¬fitable.