Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the first sent SMS message. Specifically, the target message was sent from a PC to a mobile device over Vodafone’s UK network. The text of the message was very simple “Merry Christmas” and the recipient couldn’t reply because, well, the mobile device wasn’t equipped with SMS technology.
The invention of the SMS technology is attributed to a group of engineers led by Matti Makkonen was has come to be known as the “reluctant father of SMS” given his position to never take full credit for the invention of the technology.
20 years is a very long time in the technology ecosystem. In 20 years, we have witnessed multiple revolutions in the mobile and telecommunications world and yet SMS is still standing as one of the fundamental pieces of any Telco technology stack. As far as user experiences go, SMS is as simple as it gets; infrastructure wise, SMS requires an incredible robust network pipeline to ensure the correct delivery of messages. The ability of surface a complex infrastructure using simple and intuitive user experiences and open programming interfaces that can be blended into different technology stack are part of the core DNA of world-changing technologies.
At its core, SMS is an infrastructure technology. I am of the firm opinion that the best infrastructure technologies have the ability of “disappearing” behind simple user experiences. Every day, we used technologies like Twitter, GPS or simple phone calls without thinking about the infrastructure powering our user experience. Simplicity and openness gives great infrastructure technologies the ability of transcending the times and changing the world.
Regardless of its many technical merits, 20 years is still a long time for a technology. Congrats to Matti Makkonen on the 20th anniversary of SMS. 8 trillion messages after, we still need to thank him for giving us a technology that has transcended the times.