Posts Tagged ‘text messaging’

I came across an interesting article on CNET: On Inauguration Day, will my cell phone work?

The gist of the article is that with the huge number of people expected in D.C. for the inauguration, the local cell networks will be saturated with users. The wireless congestion is expected to be so great that users may experience dropped calls, delayed text messages, and possibly a system so overwhelmed that they may not be able to make or receive calls. Add to this the number of smartphone users who may be trying to use data services for e-mail or web browsing and the problems multiply.

It’s an interesting problem to consider, but I think the thing that most interests me is the recommendation from the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association. The association is advising attendees, "Text, don’t talk." Text messages are easier on the network than voice calls and data-intensive applications, so the recommendation makes sense from a technological standpoint.

From a people perspective though, it just fuels a trend that is of increasing concern to me: the depersonalization of communication. Remember in the old days when we used to get letters? Remember how nice it was to hear some news from an old friend? E-mail, instant messaging, texting, and other forms of near-instant communication are convenient, but something is missing. When you read "This is amazing!" in a text message, it just doesn’t convey the emotion you would hear in someone’s voice. But the preference increasingly seems to be for electronic communication. I see it more and more in the workplace. People prefer to send an e-mail message rather than just talking to the person in the next cubicle. A generation of youth is growing up preferring to send text messages rather than actually speaking to their friends.

It reminds me of an old FAQ we received when a new voice mail system was implemented at our university. One of the points dealt with why some people are resistant to voice mail, and it highlighted the fact that some people used voice mail as a way to hide from direct communication with people trying to contact them. Increasingly I think people are using electronic communication in much the same way.

Perhaps it’s a pointless bias simply due to my generation, but I can’t help wondering why people don’t want to talk to each other anymore.

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A recent CNET headline proclaimed, “For teens, the future is mobile.” DUH! A quick look around confirms that for teens, the NOW is mobile. Anyone who watches and talks to cell phone-wielding teens knows that they love their cell phones. Many prefer texting over actually talking to someone. The story also reports a prediction that mobile phones will surpass the popularity of desktop computers for U.S. teens. Again, no big surprise. In fact, we may already be there.

The story did bring out one point that is well worth noting. Bill Carter of the marketing agency, Fuse, predicts, ” . . . mobile phone providers likely won’t succeed as the entertainment leaders for the phone, despite their efforts to sell ringtones, games, and music. Other companies like Apple, Google, and Yahoo will be more effective at ‘side-loading’ the cell phone with services.” I think this is an important trend to follow, both for consumers and libraries.

(Olsen, Stefanie. “For teens, the future is mobile.” CNET News. July 15, 2008. Available at http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-9991979-93.html.)

As I’ve noted elsewhere, my current phone is a Palm Treo. I’ve customized my phone with a number of applications that meet my needs. In contrast, one of my biggest gripes with the original iPhone was that Apple intentionally blocked users from truly making the device their own with specialized applications. Happily Apple has remedied this unfortunate situation with the introduction of the app store.

But what does this trend hold in store for libraries? What custom applications might library users need? When I started thinking about this, the first thing that came to mind was not an application at all. I started thinking about the library website. Just how well does your website play with mobile phones? If you’re not sure, just try browsing your website and searching your library catalog on your cell phone. If you think your website and catalog pass the test, start trying some of your databases. It really gets ugly there! Libraries need websites and catalogs that load quickly and work well with mobile devices. Handheld users don’t exactly have the fastest connection after all! But how about those databases on a mobile device? Ugly, ugly, ugly! So . . . perhaps a nice, clean, elegant widget for searching various library databases.

Beyond that, what else might a library user want to do with a cell phone? Bibliographic citation manager perhaps? How about a way to deliver due dates for checked-out items directly to the cell phone calendar? Stream audio and video content from the library’s media collection? Easily store e-books on the phone for reading later? Or let’s just get basic. How about texting with a reference librarian? Yes, I know that some libraries already do this, but maybe not enough of us are. If that is the preferred communication medium for our users, maybe we should explore it a little more.

Well, I finally bit. I get annoyed by websites that require users to register before they can read the content (even if it is free), but after holding out against the New York Times for all these years, I stumbled across a headline that intrigued me. For those interested in following it, the article is Drilling Down: Phones’ Texting Feature Often Unused.

In this article, Alex Mindlin reports, “In the United States, for example, 82 percent of cellphone owners said that they never used text messaging, 3 percent said that they used it monthly or less, and 15 percent said that they used it every week or even more.”

82%. That’s a LOT of cell phone users who don’t use text messaging. My guess is that those who don’t use text messaging may not use other features such as taking photos, web browsing, or reading e-mail on their phones. Libraries spend a lot of time thinking about about Millennials. We know this group uses their cell phones regularly, and they send a lot of text messages. They bring different expectations to their library experiences, and libraries are trying to design new services that meet their needs.

However, if the 82% estimate is correct, libraries also need to stay focused on those users who don’t bring Millennial expectations. In our search for services that engage technically savvy users, we must be careful not abandon those who have different needs. Sure it will be cool to search the library Web site on a cell phone and receive courtesy notices via SMS. But if 82% of our cell phone-toting public don’t use those features, we need to make sure that we continue to develop services that they WILL use.