To mark the year's first KU football game, we launched a new feature on KUsports.com today: SMS game alerts. Users can sign up to receive KU football game scores and stats on their cell phones in one of three ways:
- After the game
- At halftime and after the game
- After each quarter
You can choose whether you want to receive these updates on a game-by-game basis or for the entire season. The alert messages are hand-written by an editor rather than being automated, because that allows us to pick out key stats and interesting tidbits.
From what I've heard, this is small potatoes compared to some of the SMS stuff happening in Europe, but we're genuinely pleased and excited by this new technology. It's a perfect fit for quick breaking-news bits, of which sports scores are an excellent example.
On KUsports.com, quite a few people have signed up to receive the alerts already, despite the facts that the feature has only been advertised on the site for about a day and a half and that KU football doesn't have as good of a reputation as, say, KU basketball. What's really interesting to me is that most of the people who signed up requested the quarterly updates, as opposed to only the postgame or halftime/postgame options. Seems like they want as much info as they can get, as often as they can get it.
The most interesting thing about this, though, is how easy it is to do technically. The deep, dark secret behind our SMS implementation is: It's just e-mail. All of the large American cell phone companies provide an e-mail interface to their clients' cell phones. For example, to send an SMS to a Sprint PCS customer, just send an e-mail to the person's 10-digit number at the messaging.sprintpcs.com domain (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org), and your e-mail will be displayed on his or her phone as a text message. It's that simple.
There are other ways of hooking into cell-phone providers' SMS systems -- ways that provide more security and reliability than simple e-mail -- but every provider seems to have a different API. In designing the KUsports.com system, I decided that the benefits of the e-mail approach -- namely, a common interface -- outweighed the minor disadvantages.
Judging by the preliminary reaction to the KUsports.com game alerts, I think it's safe to say we'll only be doing more of this. (This is our second venture into SMS, our first being lawrence.com event reminders, which we've had for a few months and are quite popular in themselves.)