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Messaging People

The Internet started with email. The wireless Internet began with messaging. Every world survey shows that email is the most frequently used and most essential application. Messaging is the basis for many collaborative business and personal uses. Email, newsgroups, and postings add a valuable human quality to any web site as the network of viewers become aware of each other and their participatory value. It may come as no surprise that email, shortened to messaging, is the number one wireless application. Europeans send 15 billion SMS (Short Message System) messages each month. DoCoMo Japan says i-mode subscribers send over 3 billion messages per month.

Developers most often overlook messaging in wireless projects. Subscribers are finding that messaging can solve immediate needs and be more effective (and far less expensive) than a voice call. Text is the message medium—unstyled, short, ordinary text with the news up front. It's efficient and easy to transmit. Its brevity suits the short amount of time of the on-the-go user. Effective messages get to the point and can be acted on.

Most North American web phone carriers offer messaging for a fee, but each service is different. Europeans use only one standard—SMS—which is built into the GSM phone service. SMS is a low-priority store-and-forward service that arrives when it can. Web phone messaging and handheld mail are often built on a dial-up circuit-switched network. Unless you have a paging channel or a packet-based wireless air interface, you won't get urgent text immediately. Time-sensitive applications that require sending urgent messages or financial alerts demand a time-sensitive paging network. The RIM or Motorola pagers are ideal for this. WAP can provide page-like services if the carrier has a PUSH server. PUSH can be better than paging because it defines a rich messaging scheme for interactive responses.

Advanced messaging systems like decision-support applications can be written so that information can be acted on or replied to from buttons embedded within the message. Special sign-and-return components are also part of commercial messaging systems. List servers track and send brief news elements to newsgroup subscribers. Unified Messaging Systems (UMS) aim to help people burdened with multiple numbers, voice, fax, messaging, paging, and email addresses for home and business by providing one unified digital mailbox service protocol. Look for UMS as a universally available web service from companies like Openwave.

European developers have learned to instinctively build SMS dialogue-style applications. In Finland, wireless developers tell me that many companies introduce SMS applications before writing WAP applications. The practical reason is that there are far more SMS than WAP handsets, and SMS charges are far lower than WAP access charges. Messaging applications could be anything from a game to a business messaging system. Games are commonly written as a messaging system for the mobile player. Messaging can be thought of as an alternate form of browser application. It's a matter of breaking down what were formerly pages into dialogues. This is how popular games like Gladiator and Trivia work. They're written as message-and-response form dialogues and are generated over an email, instant messaging, or SMS system. And they could just as easily operate over HTTP as wireless web pages.

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