Twitter today is by far the fastest growing company that we have seen in recent times. The rate at which it has grown this year alone has stumped all analysts. Twitter does not publish the number of users it has, but if this article from Techcrunch is to be believed, Twitter had 50 million users this September. If this hockey stick kind of growth was not enough, an internal leaked document published by Techcrunch took everyone by surprise. Twitter is planning to add a billion users by 2013. Just for the perspective, a billion today is one sixth the world's population. Now I am sure that the number of 'active' Twitter users is way low and there is a lot of skepticism on it reaching the billion user base but we cannot deny the fact that the Twitter train is hurtling down at break neck speed. And to achieve that kind of growth, you need to have a strong vision. In Twitter's case the vision being to reach out to a billion people.
It is in this context that India is so important to Twitter. India has seen a near similar Twitter kind of growth in terms of number of mobile connections. India today has about 400 million mobile connections and according to this article by cio.com it will add another 370 million mobile connections by 2013. Again the figures are no doubt inflated according to a recent government report, but you cannot disagree that India is having a mobile revolution. Mobile phones have fast reached even those areas where you don't even have a television, forget broadband. A recent TV advertisement about a mobile phone where people visit the nearby town to get their mobile phones charged is a true indication of this immense growth story.
India with its billion population and one of the fastest growing mobile phone market is a perfect place for Twitter to realize it's visionary growth. Providing a simple SMS interface to its service will ensure that it has the scope of reaching out to every individual having a mobile phone. Earlier tweeting through your mobile phone was a 'value added service' and it would cost the user Rs 3/- for each tweet sent. But with a recent agreement with Airtel, this service will be provided at regular SMS cost. Though the deal is exclusive for a limited period, soon other carriers will start offering the same service.
Infact Smsgupshup is another company which started around the same time as Twitter and was targeted specifically for India. According to Sraman Mitra Smsgupshup started in 2004 has about 22 million users today. And since Smsgupshup operates in India, this is number of users only in India. Compare this to the inflated worldwide figure of 50 million Twitter users worldwide. In June 2008 Anand Rajaraman wrote in venturebeat.com how Smsgupshup was bigger than twitter back then. That claim may still be true today, But definitely the gap has reduced in the last one year. Celebrities and evangelists in India adopted Twitter instead of Smsgupshup and fueled it's growth just as @Oprah and @aplusk helped in Twitter's growth in the west.
I wouldn't really say that Twitter is more successful than Smsgupshup. If you talk about growth, clearly in the last one year we have seen Twitter grow immensely. If you talk about profitability though, Twitter will take years to be profitable and it does not have a way to make money today. Smsgupshup on the other hand seems to be generating decent revenue. In an interview at Techcrunch, CEO of Smsgupshup Beerud Sheth claims that it is generating revenue of $150,000/month and growing. Sometime next year they are aiming to break even. Infact to run a majority of your business on the web is clearly cheaper than to run it on pure mobile phones at the same scale. Smsgupshup sends out about 400 million messages per month or about 5 billion messages a year. Even if it costs them one paise to send out a SMS, they must be leaking about Rs 8 crores a year. Hence for Smsgupshup it is really important to break even it's costs first before trying to grow exponentially.
But in terms of popularity clearly Twitter scores over Smsgupshup. Other than the adoption by famous celebrities, Twitter's growth has been attributed to it's open APIs. A lot of people have created thousands of applications and use cases around Twitter just by using it's API. A lot of people use Twitter not through their web interface, but through one of many Twitter clients that they feel comfortable with. That really helped in Twitter's growth. Though Smsgupshup announced it's application development platform, access is not as simple as Twitter's. You need to get in touch with someone in Smsgupshup to get it.
I used Smsgupshup's platform to develop a small mash-up called SmsTweet which lets users tweet using their mobile phone. The message is sent to a 10 digit phone number, hence the cost of the sms is just one rupee. Essentially these APIs help you access data over internet through your mobile phone using just a SMS. This simple concept can widely be used in various scenarios. Fleet management companies can use this to ask their truck drivers to update their location every hour, which they can then track on their dashboards. Users can search for and get contact details of a restaurant they want to visit on their mobile phones. Compare price of a product in various stores standing in a particular store.
In conclusion, I personally believe that in India there is immense scope for developing a product using only SMS. If companies like Smsgupshup promote and support their platform and more such companies provide similar platforms, it will provide a good opportunity to developers in India to come up with simple usable product in their areas.
[This article was contributed to pluggd.in -Twitter, SMSGupshup and the Power of SMS [Indian Mobile Revolution]]