Q. So I’m protesting the Republican convention, and I’m thinking text messaging might be the best way to keep up with my pals in the crowd and figure out where the action’s at. As a texting neophyte, I’ve no clue as to how much this’ll cost. Fill me in.
A. For reasons that Mr. Roboto can’t quite fathom, American mobile carriers still treat text messaging as an option rather than an essential feature. No wonder, then, that the Yanks lag behind pretty much the entire world in terms of Short Message Service (SMS) notes sent. That’s a shame because, as you astutely point out, texting is the ideal way to organize a protest on the fly.
The good folks at the Institute for Applied Autonomy (appliedautonomy.com) have been several steps ahead on this. The venerable techno-collective has created TXTmob (txtmob.com), a free service that’s sort of like an SMS bulletin board system. Sign up and you can receive RNC-specific alerts on everything from Bl(A)ck Tea Society doings to legal advice for potential arrestees. You can also create your own private group, just for you and your friends, so a single message will go to all subscribers.
You can also use SMS to create your own impromptu protest by using xFlashMobs (xflashmobs.com). This site, a spin-off of plain ol’ flashmob.com, helps you devise and manage a list of people with SMS-enabled phones, who can then receive en masse instructions as to where to go—or stay away from—during a march. The site also provides links to like-minded sites from Latvia to New Zealand—just in case you’re interested in coordinating some international action in late August, natch.
Ah, but Mr. Roboto totally, totally digresses. Your real question was about costs, and the news here is somewhat grim. Mr. Roboto surveyed all the major wireless providers in New York, and concludes that the pay-as-you-go SMS options are mighty dear. The worst is Nextel, which charges 15 cents per message sent or received. Tied for best—and Mr. Roboto uses the word “best” lightly—were AT&T Wireless (free to receive, 10 cents per message to send) and T-Mobile (5 cents coming or going).
In a protest setting, of course, it’s those received messages that’re gonna kill you, especially if you’re subscribing to a TXTmob group that’ll generate lots of data. If you’re really worried about the notes piling up, it might be worth calling your provider and signing up for a monthly plan. T-Mobile’s deal of $2.99 per 300 text messages a month sounds like the juiciest.
You can also try talking your provider into tossing in SMS as an inducement to re-up your contract. Mention that you’re thinking of taking your business elsewhere, and then drop a hint that, boy, you sure would love an SMS deal.The hardball tactic, however, is predicated upon your being a high-value customer—that is, one who isn’t signed up for one of the cheapest (say, under $50 a month) plans. Seeing as how you’ll be protesting the RNC rather than throwing confetti at the president from inside Madison Square Garden, Mr. Roboto is betting that you’re probably not in the top tax bracket. All things considered, spending a couple extra bucks on text messaging over three days is probably your most budget-friendly option.
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So the terrorists haven’t managed to take out the Citigroup building—yay for Tom Ridge! Now you can keep apprised of the next immediate threat by signing up for AlertsUSA’s new and improved Homeland Security Information System (alertsusa.com). For $3.99 a month, the company will beam all the latest war-on-terror information to your cell; you’ll first receive an SMS notification, which prompts you to dial into a streaming audio rundown of the crisis.
Some good news for beleaguered Hotmail users, who are well acquainted with the frustrations of running out of e-mail storage space. Come this fall, Microsoft says it will have upped the free storage space to 250 MB, from today’s paltry 2 MB. Oh, and you’ll also be able to send and receive attachments up to 10 MB. Mr. Roboto hearts Bill Gates.