Twitter starts to limit outbound SMS in UK

It appears Twitter is starting to smart from sending so many SMS messages to the Text-obsessed UK population. A small item has appeared on the right side-bar of Twitter profiles displaying “Received SMS 0/250”. This links through to a page explaining “How many SMS messages am I allowed to receive on my mobile per week?”

There is a weekly limit of 250 messages per week on the UK long code
There is no limit on incoming updates to Twitter from your mobile phone, however, you’re limited to 250 SMS messages from Twitter to your mobile phone if you use our international number (+44 762 4801423). Those who send and receive messages over one of our national short codes (like 40404 in the US or 21212 in Canada) may send and receive unlimited updates per week.

So in other words you can send as many texts to Twitter as you like, but you’ll only get 250 SMS texts per week inbound to your mobile, defined as Sunday to Sunday. Twitter will let users know via text message that they are close the 250 limit. But UK Twits are getting a raw deal compared to North American Twitterers since they “may send and receive unlimited updates per week.” Why is this? It’s likely down to the different charging regimes. Unlike UK mobile users, US users typically pay to receive texts, making it economically viable for Twitter to offer the text service.

There’s some possible outcomes to this move by Twitter. UK users may start unsubscribing from people who tweet incessantly (those afflicted with “Twitarrhoea“) and thus use up their followers’ SMS allowance. Or they will cut down the number of Twitterers they follow. Or they will switch to using mobile data to send and receive tweets, which ought, in theory save them money over the long run. Whatever the outcome, Twitter’s backers, who include Union Square Ventures, are clearly concerned by the SMS charges they are laying out.

Twitter is using an SMS number sourced in the Isle of Man, rather than in the UK, so they do get some money (1p or 1.5p) per incoming text. However, they still need to pay at least 4 pence outbound, which in technical terms means they are… losing money hand over fist. Note also that the 07624 in Twitter’s number (+44 762 4801423) means it is actually billed as “international” by 3 and T-Mobile, making it a pricey service for those who like to tweet via SMS.

If Twitter was smart, they could move to a model of charging for the ability to receive more SMS messages than the weekly allocation allows. That would provide some welcome cash to the business, which was speculatively thought to be losing $115,883.88 a month back in May alone. Perhaps someone could ask Biz Stone, Twitter co-founder, who is appearing in Oxford today about all this?