Saturday, January 31, 2009

Use your loaf - anonymised sms messaging

"Never give out your mobile number again use your The safe anonymous way to send sms txt messages from your UK mobile phone."

That is how loaf introduced themselves to the world on 19th December and at first glance it makes a very appealing proposition for the youth dating and small advertising demographics which appear to be the key markets they had identified.

The core idea is very simple. Instead of being identified by your real mobile phone number when sending or receiving text messages you use your loaf name instead. All messages are sent to and from the loaf 25p MO premium shortcode - 88845.

Recipients can control access to their loaf name by blocking particular senders if they so wish.

To succeed the service will need to generate a relatively large volume of traffic. The rev share on a 25p premium message will barely cover the cost of the resulting bulk MT message. The tiny remaining margin will have to be multiplied up a *lot* of times to cover the company's overheads.

This will be improved slightly by the "mobile-to-email" feature - sold as a bonus feature for the users but in reality a bit of a business model saver since it will reduce their bulk SMS costs and increase the revenue generated from users who take it up by at least a factor fo five!

There are some potential rough edges:
  • To reply via the service requires the user to manually transcribe the senders loaf name from the end of the incoming SMS to the start of the reply - this is error prone and reduces the usability of the service for the typical user.
  • The premium messaging cost is collected on the MO which potentially creates complications for using the service since every user who publishes their loaf name is effectively advertising a premium messaging service which may raise a few eyebrows down and PhonePayPlus!
  • In addition if the recipient has blocked that particular sender (or as below if the sender is not a loaf member!) the sender still pays the premium charge but gets nothing for it.
The biggest problem with the whole thing is that both sender and recipient need to have signed up as loaf members via the website in order to communicate. If you try to send when not a member you get a rather unhelpful text response simply directing you to the website.

This is a huge and possibly terminal problem for service uptake since if you give out your loaf id to someone who is not on loaf they must choose to go to the website and sign up in order to send you a message - and any mobile service that requires the user to go to their PC has little chance of success.

If they could handle signup interactively on mobile that would improve the experience hugely. Hard to see why the bounce message doesn't simply push the user into a mobile internet signup page.

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