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Twitter Cans UK SMS

Twitter has suddenly canned its “UK” based SMS number thus cutting off its UK and many international users from receiving updates. This story is now getting wider coverage as the day goes on.  TechCrunch has a good report on it.  Hardly surprising that a lot of UK and Australian Twitter users in particular are not impressed.

This isn’t the first time Twitter has hit issues with its “UK” based SMS number (more of that anon) and it has had plenty of performance hits and downtime issues. Diesel Sweeties recently produced a comic strip reflecting this (slightly NSFW).

Elsewhere some straight questions have been asked about these performance and downtime issues. Do you really want to tell the entire world that you’ve lost a database? Twitter’s recent issues with replies were also examined and the suggestion is that FriendFeed is a more stable service.

An indication of how mainstream Twitter had become was that the BBC had started to use Twitter.

Twitter has cited costs of sending SMS messages and the failure to achieve a good relationship with mobile phone network providers in the UK and elsewhere. There may be an element of truth in this. Before this announcement I had been investigating why my mobile phone provider, Orange, had suddenly decided to start charging me international rates for sending text messages to what looked like a UK number, namely 07624 801423.

The call centre operatives who took my call agreed with me that the number looked like a UK number and should have been taken from my monthly allowance and not charged to me. I requested a full written response. This is what I received:

“Thank you for your query regarding charges on your account, These charges have been checked and are correct. The charge to send a text to numbers within the Channel Islands is now charged at 20p.”

I asked Virgin Mobile for their charging policy to the Twitter number:

“Thanks for your email to Virgin Mobile asking about our charges for sending texts to Twitter.

Although this number starts with 07 there are a number of companies using such numbers which appear to be standard mobile phone numbers but are, in fact, a form of premium rate number.

In line with many other networks in the UK, we would make a charge of 20p per text for messages sent to such numbers.”

I queried that response. Surely OFCOM standards make it clear that 07 numbers are mobile numbers rather than premium rate numbers? The response came

“Thanks for your email to Virgin Mobile, we really appreciate you taking the time to get back to us about this matter.

From the information you’ve provided us with in your emails, it sounds like 07624801423 is being used as a form of a premium rate number. You’re correct in thinking that most premium rate numbers start with 08 or 09, however there’s always some that don’t.

We’ve tried calling the number in question this evening and all we get is a dead tone so we’re not entirely sure what type of number this is. With this in mind, we’re sadly don’t have any further information we can provide you with regards to this number.”

Not the most convincing response I’ve ever had.

T-mobile also charge 20p per text to Twitter, even on their “Text Appeal” plan.

I did get confirmation from O2 that currently they do not charge international rates for texts to Twitter.  In other words they treat the text as one to a standard UK number.

I’m not the only one who got miffed about this.

The 07624 number is provided by Manx Telecom and is based in the Isle Of Man.  What were Orange saying about Channel Islands?  I’m no expert at geography but even I know the Channel Islands are in the Channel and the Isle Of Man is in the Irish Sea!  The simple bottom line is that if it’s an 07 number then it should be charged as a standard UK mobile number.  If it looks like a duck and behaves like a duck then it should be a duck, not a fish.  You don’t see people asking “I need to call Reading, do I need to check that the Reading area code is charged differently to the rest of the UK?”

The way Twitter and the mobile operators handled that issue has not reflected well on any of them.

But that’s all redundant now.

The lack of Twitter updates coming to my phone has now rendered Twitter pretty much irrelevant to me. Where once Twitter friends could send me direct messages (often important updates like a mutual friend is in hospital, their computer is screwed and they need assistance, don’t forget your mother’s birthday, can I remember how to start a NetWare server without running the AUTOEXEC.NCF file to help a former colleague who’s been dropped in the mire, et cetera).

With this one move Twitter has now become something I will rarely be using.  The functionality of information I want coming to me has been lost.  The way it has happened does not reflect well at all on Twitter, even if this issue isn’t entirely of their own making (although you could say this is due to a flaw in their business model so it is their fault really).  Were this a considered decision, one they knew was coming then surely Twitter could and should have warned its customers?  They didn’t and that’s why people are getting annoyed.

Is Twitter trying to reposition itself as the Ryanair of social networking?  Sudden decisions taken without informing and thus inconveniencing customers is not good for reputation.  And bad news invariably travels faster than good news.

This has nothing to do with the “Shut up, you’re getting something for free!” argument that will invariably be posted around the net by the ill informed and the idealists.  This has everything to do with questions being asked about Twitter’s infrastucture, business model and commitment to customer service.  Would their approach really be different were I a paying customer?  I doubt it very much.

PaidContent makes an observation and then asks a very simple question:

“Twitter first got spooked about the problem when capped UK SMSes at 250 per week in November, but the site has raised $15 million VC since then, taking it up to $20 million. If that money isn’t going in to carrier fees, where exactly is it going? It’s the latest part of the Twitter service to bite the dust, after the instant messenger link was recently shut off.”

My gut instinct is that there is more to this story than meets the eye.  Twitter should have handled this issue better and now needs to quickly come up with alternatives to the now canned SMS service to stop people leaving.

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