In Search of Free SMS

UPDATE: If you take a look at the comments at the end of this post, you will notice some criticism. I’ve responded to these here(and also in the comments below).

Three months down the road, the most popular page in this blog is, by far, the ‘ Opera Mini Hack.’ Everyday, I get 30-50 visitors to this page who are brought my way courtesy of google. It seems many of you are interested in sasanet, free sms and hacks. Not being one to let an opportunity go unused, I’ve decided to write more on sasanet and free sms. – wtf!?

Please not that in this context, wtf has not been used to mean “where’s the fire” used to be one of my favorite sites as it allowed me easy, free communication. I even came up with a hack specific to this site. Things change, however. Right now, I have an extreme dislike for Why?

Sasanet exhibited what I call classic jerky jock behavior. A jerky jock courts you, uses you then abuses you. Sasanet courted us by providing free sms services. I suspect this propelled them to widespread popularity and drove thousands to their site – that’s what they (sasanet) wanted. Later, they discontinued the free sms service and monetized everything on their site. See, that’s classic jerky jock. Now the thousands who visit (or used to visit) sasanet are probably either as disappointed as I am or got sucked into the ‘trap’ and now help sasanet make more money.

I’m not against making money in this way. In fact, I respect the jerky jock approach to business. However, I think the viability of this approach is ebbing away. Think web 2.0: freedom and equality geared to user (that’s you and I) satisfaction. This just goes to show that the web2.0fication of the net is not equal in all places. Kenya, evidently, still lives web 1.0.

With sasanet having gone the jerky jock way, does this spell the end of free sms services in Kenya?

There’s Always Someone Looking to Stab You in the Back and Kick You When you’re Down

The jerky jock approach is simple, fast, efficient, and makes sense (and money). As I said earlier, I think this approach cannot be used effectively anymore – it cannot work in the long run nowadays. The internet, after all, is the international network. This simply means that there is always someone somewhere who can, is and/or will compete with you.

Take sasanet, for example, they probably still make loads of money from visits to their site by people looking for free sms. Unfortunately, this is bound to be very short-term – the site’s visitors will eventually realize that sasanet cannot satisfy their need for free sms and will go looking for others who can satisfy that need. The lesson here is: do not go the jerky jock way. If you must go this way, make sure you don’t piss off your users (read customers) by keeping something, anything in it for them. Then again, if you must go this way, check your business model and re-strategize.

So, is there an alternative to You bet!

The Competition

Needing to send a text message to someone, for free, I went about on a search for a way to do just that. (No I’m not trying to spoil the sasanet party.) The search was too long for my liking but I did get results. The winners are:

First Prize – Just register as a user and you can send 3 absolutely free texts per day to anyone in the world. An added bonus: this site can help you make money. Plus, is more than just a place to send free sms, its the largest mobile community on the net. An absolutely shocking thing about this site is that it is not ‘optimized’ for Firefox.

The also-rans: Both and provide free sms services. You have to register as a member of these sites before you can send any texts. A problem with these sites is that the recipient gets the sms as an email. This presents two problems:

  • Recipients must be able to receive emails on their phones.
  • Retrieving emails is not free in some countries. Countries like, you guessed it, Kenya.

So you send someone an sms and they get charged for reading it. This, in my point of view, is just plain evil good old robbery and begs the question : Isn’t safaricom even worse than a jerky jock? (I kindly ask Celtel users to elaborate on email retrieval charges, if any.)

My advice to : find away to re-introduce the free sms service. As you can see, the competition is way behind what you used to offer (10 completely free text messages per day). It makes sense – you are likely to make more money that way. Did you know that had, like you, scrapped free sms only to re-introduce it due to ‘public’ demand? Learn from their mistake.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Dude…you are clearly the worlds most naive consumer without an iota of business sense. Imagine if you had a 300k user base and were giving 10 free SMS at a market rate of 5sh. (assuming everyone uses up their credits)You have 3,000,000 sms being sent per day at a market value of ksh 15 million.Dude..any business would be foolish to be conceding such an amount DAILY.What sort of investment can you think of that would recoup this investment?

    This free free mentality is what ails kenyan consumers.I remain – CreativeMind

  2. Anonymous says:

    Now, the problem with Kenyans is that we love free things as if our mamas did not teach us that free things AINT FOR FREE…as a guy you should know that…Sasanet decided to give us the free texts we did not ask for them…so its the same sasanet that has the power to take away what it gave us. Being a business woman, if after some time i saw that being nice is only recognised if i gave out free services..then i think id change my biz and turn to what is benefitial…lets deal with it..lovely day.

  3. First off, if you’re going to openly attack me, don’t be an anonymous coward, leave your name.

    I’m not too certain about your calculations. Using your figure, Sasanet used to place an advert at the end of every one of those 3,000,000 sms that were sent DAILY. Now, this is prime advertising because every single person who gets an sms usually scrolls till the end so 98% of those ads would have eyeballs gaze upon them. That’s reason enough to charge advertisers well enough to at least cover costs.

    Moreover, the sasanet site, where us users used to spend significant amounts of time composing our sms was very prime for ad placement hence more revenue for sasanet.

    And I’m quite sure that if I was part of sasanet administration I’d find plenty of ways to make money and still keep the free sms free.

    So, dude, sasanet could have made it without being jerky jocks.

    I fail to understand what you people have against free things. Freebies dont just make sense to consumers but to the business as well. I counter your argument and says that Kenyan business just dont understand the power of freebies, that’s what ails them.

    Paul Graham put’s it best:
    In How to Start a Startup I advised startups never to let anyone fly under them, meaning never to let any other company offer a cheaper, easier solution. Another way to fly low is to give users more power. Let users do what they want. If you don’t and a competitor does, you’re in trouble…. The ultimate way to be nice to users is to give them something for free that competitors charge for. During the 90s a lot of people probably thought we’d have some working system for micropayments by now. In fact things have gone in the other direction. The most successful sites are the ones that figure out new ways to give stuff away for free. Craigslist has largely destroyed the classified ad sites of the 90s, and OkCupid looks likely to do the same to the previous generation of dating sites.

    Serving web pages is very, very cheap. If you can make even a fraction of a cent per page view, you can make a profit. And technology for targeting ads continues to improve. I wouldn’t be surprised if ten years from now eBay had been supplanted by an ad-supported freeBay (or, more likely, gBay).

    Odd as it might sound, we tell startups that they should try to make as little money as possible. If you can figure out a way to turn a billion dollar industry into a fifty million dollar industry, so much the better, if all fifty million go to you. Though indeed, making things cheaper often turns out to generate more money in the end, just as automating things often turns out to generate more jobs.


  4. Kayliz, the difference between you and the anonymous two is that, they think politically- they(sasanet) offer the services, they can as well decide to withdraw it. But you look at it from a business point of view.
    A good business, which is normally that which prospers, is that which meets the needs of everyone, the business itself, the businessman and the consumers, a win-win-win so to speak.
    Kayliz, you make a lot of business sense.
    The site is ever awesome! Good job.

    • Thanks Wyndago. Let us note that on withdrawing free sms, Sasanet essentially died. All the buzz and goodwill it had built up came to nothing.
      They should have not only stuck with free sms, but found ways to make the service more accessible.

  5. dont u think this attaching an ad at the end of the 3,000,000 sms is SPAMMING? Imagine a college student, who wants to send an sms to his dad requesting for some cash or airtime…then at the end an advert for “…tonight at carnivore, Mike Rua…..” what do u think the dad will think? Lets be realistic….the free sms thing and attaching ads at the end simply died coz of that….See, Sasanet could not limit the number of pple to register and send sms in a day, but were they guaranteed that they will have advertisers?

    • Jane, I agree with you on one hand that it is indeed spamming but there’s a way to work round that.

      Sasanet could have specifically made it known that all their sms will have adverts at the end. Further to that, they could then have made it clear on the actual text messages that an advert was being served.

      Something like “A message from our sponsors”

      Don’t you think that was better than, in one move, to kill their core users? Note that once Sasanet stopped the free sms service, they died.

      Although I do see your point that perhaps getting advertisers was a challenge. Still, I believe they could have handled their business in a better way. Their users were left in the dark at all stages.

  6. yeah Kelvin, thats a good idea to inform users that there are ads attached, but there is a difference between the sender (user of the application) and the recepient of the sms plus the advert. You will be suprised romours had it that Sasanet platform used to “read” the sms, which ideally ought to be very private.
    For using a phrase” “A message from our sponsors” is fine, but remember an sms is limited to only 160 characters.

    That was then, good discussion though…so am sure if this continue to 15 comments there should be a solution…Jane

    • I feel that we agree on a lot of things, Jane. I think we both agree that Sasanet didn’t have to die as it did. They could have done more; engaged their userbase more; experimented more – anything but die.

      What do you think they could have done?

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