In the Age of Eskimi, Mxit and 2go, it’s Time for SMSs to Go…

Ever since we were given the freedom to openly express our thoughts in words and communicate them with our nearest and dearest one’s, any average African would have shared the belief that short messaging service (SMS) is here to stay and will rule the market forever. Less than a decade later we have almost seen the death of messaging. Not that the government has abolished SMS services or that mobile operators have increased the SMS tariff. No, in fact people are still attached to their smartphones at every opportunity and keep sending messages with alacrity. It is the new age Instant Messengers (IMs) that has completely taken over from SMSs. So, in the age of Eskimi, Mxiti and 2go, it is finally time for the traditional messaging service to pack up and go.

SMS always had its drawbacks, with just 160 characters allowed per SMS, the abbreviations for words had more to do with the cost of each message rather than ease of typing. ‘Around’ became ‘arnd’, ‘you are’ became ‘ur’, ‘later’ became ‘l8r’ and the expression of laughter and happiness was reduced to ‘LOL’ or a mere combination of punctuations ‘:-),:-D’ . The parents and teachers were worried about their children’s vocabulary and rising mobile bills. They still are. However now, the regular SMS bill is replaced by a data plan which in turn activates IMs like 2go, Eskimi, Mxit, Whatsapp, Facebook messenger to name a few. The messages have no word limit; a complete conversation is nicely drafted on a single page for convenience and ease of reference (with multiple chat boxes open simultaneously, it is easy to lose track of ’conversations’). One can also share photos, videos or voice recordings free of charge, unlike in its previous cumbersome and costlier avatar of MMS (multimedia messaging service).

As the African states move from a feature phone to a smartphone, IM apps are also improving their customer base. 2go has emerged as the leader in this category with over 11 million active monthly users, followed by Mxit with over 8 million dedicated monthly users in Africa. A study reveals that over 7 billion messages are sent through the 2go app every month. Now this is a kind of number which, if translated into SMS, would have generated a windfall in revenue for mobile operators. So, is it all bad news for these companies? Not really! Eventually all IM apps are dependent upon data transfer services and the majority, if not all the money that is lost in messaging is gained through data plans.

With the game of cricket, they have an expression– ‘Form is temporary but class is permanent’. Similarly the form in which communication takes place will keep evolving. What will always remain intact are the thoughts and the words of people, taking shape through different forms of expression.