November 15, 2009...9:51 pm

Always With Me, Wherever I Go (Part 2)

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When my Dad was nine years old, he would tell his mother he was spending the day with a friend, leave the house to ride the New York City subway all over the city and return after dark.  His mother didn’t know where he was, or how to get a hold of him.  After my sophmore year in college, I spent the better part of a summer travelling all over Europe, also without giving my parents any information about how to reach me if they needed to.  

How times have changed.  We now all have electronic tethers to our families, our businesses, and virtually anyone else who has our mobile phone numbers.  We are always connected, at all times.  Our mobile is always with us, wherever we go.

One aspect of mobile, which is getting increased notice, is the utility of being able to receive immediate SMS messages with important information at any location and at any juncture in our day.  I remember calling into my parents every now and then from Europe, sometimes after waiting for an hour at a public international phone in a European city, for the sole purpose of making sure everything back home was OK.  There was a certain discomfort in not being able to be reached in case of an emergency.  Once I knew things were fine, I could go on with my trip emotionally unencumbered. 

 Now, we can be reached anytime, and virtually anywhere – and that has the potential to change our lives significantly for the better.

Dan Jones, the VP, Channel Development at Smart Reply, gave me a great example the other day of how the utility of ‘always with me, wherever I go’ is currently being used to our advantage.  His firm is working with the Center for Disease Control to give Americans the latest up-to-date information on the swine flu via mobile.  After texting HEALTH to 87000 and answering three quick demographic questions, I can receive H1N1 swine flu alerts and other related health info about three times per week.  Since I gave my zip code, I would think they could also send me local swine flu info (like when and where the vaccine can be accessed in my community), as well.  So far, since September 8, they have received over 12,000 registrants (70% from their website, 25% from the Smart Reply network, and 5% from other sources, including Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites – the percentage from social networking certainly should be higher!) and the service is provided in English and Spanish.  Interestingly, 43% of the subscribers to this text service are 35-54 years old.

There are so many uses for push alerts that improve the utility of our lives that it amazes me that this area has not been pursued more aggressively.  Many of us have already used the airline flight status alerts on our mobile phones, but how many of us would sign up for push alerts to your mobile phone like these, if they were available?:

  •  Traffic status alerts customized for our specific commute home
  • Police, fire, natural disaster and other up-to-the-minute safety alert info for our local area (that sure would have been useful in the Southern California fires last year!)
  • FDA recalls for food products purchased at local markets (through supermarket loyalty clubs, many have your phone number and which items you purchased in their database!)
  • Impending service call alerts from cable, phone, and utility companies (so you don’t have to wait at home for the duration of the dreaded four to eight hour window)

Push alerts to the mobile phone can even be helpful for more mundane daily utility items such as daily medication reminders and refill alerts, bill payment and membership renewal reminders and on the spot notification when a table is ready at a restaurant.

As parents and as marketers, we know the value of being able to reach others wherever they are, at any moment of the day.  But as a consumer, I would like to get much more utility information pushed onto my phone to improve the quality of my life. 

I’m glad the airlines figured out that aggressive promotion of this mobile utility would bolster the perception of their industry.  And it’s good that government is getting more active about using the mobile phone to help us with dealing with the swine flu.

But I’m sure that there is, and there could be, much more. 

What other really useful utility push SMS programs are currently available? And more importantly, who isn’t pushing the utility of our mobile phones, and should be?


  • We’ve built a unique locally relevant mobile app called Suruk ( that acts like a digital meter for autorickshaw rides. In many countries like India, where autorickshaws are popular, one of the biggest commuter painpoints is meter-tampering. We also have sharepooling and emergency SMS features.

  • I’d like to get severe weather alerts on my phone vs. “weather band” radio that never works at my house.

  • I would like to get the weather and traffic on my cell and yess also the areas of violence and stone throwing.

  • [...] Jaffe over at Mobile Mandala writes about the ubiquity of SMS in today’s society and explores some useful SMS push alerts [...]

  • [...] 22, 2009 5:51 pm Mobile Mandala’s Always With Me, Wherever I go (Part 2) was selected for inclusion in this week’s Carnival of the Mobilists.  You can catch all of [...]

  • [...] Mandala’s Always With Me, Wherever I go (Part 2) was selected for inclusion in this week’s Carnival of the Mobilists.  You can catch all of [...]

  • I love this article…I wish there were Americans how would read this a realize the benefits of SMS-’Instant’. I have recently moved back to Bay Area after 8 yrs in Asia and Europe and am surprised how little I use my mobile. Most of my contacts never send SMS as they don’t know how to and because they say its expensive !!! BTW the people who I am talk of belong to the 30-39 age group !!!

  • You write “There are so many uses for push alerts that improve the utility of our lives that it amazes me that this area has not been pursued more aggressively.” Why do you believe it is not pursued more aggressively. Many news providers, big and small, pursue this already. Here are two examples:

    Are they not aggressive enough? MSN, Yahoo, AOL – they all offer these services too.

    • Thank you for your comment, Jonathan. You certainly cite great examples of companies who are aggressively involved in trying to make push messaging more ubiquitous in our lives.

      Nevertheless, I don’t believe that the involvement of those technology savvy companies means that the marketplace is aggressively pursuing this opportunity or that it is yet truly ubiquitous. After all, if it was, there would be a much broader group of services available from a much larger group of for-profit and not-for-profit companies and organizations than what is available today from the companies you have mentioned.

      Printed coupons are ubiquitous. Broadcast advertising is ubiquitous. SMS text messaging is ubiquitous.

      The use of text messaging for utility alerts is certainly on its way, with powerful technology savvy practitioners. But I would submit that it is not yet ubiquitous, and certainly not as aggressively deployed as coupons or broadcast are commercially, or SMS is on a peer-to-peer basis.

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