I saw an awesome presentation when I was in Sri Lanka giving a keynote to their annual big telecoms event. (Sri Lanka is the country on the island of Ceylon, just off the South-Eastern tip of India). One of the speakers was Idrees Butt the COO of a company called SMS All, Pakistan's largest social network with a twist - it runs on SMS text messaging.
Boy why didn't I see this coming? I mean, Twitter was built so, that each Tweet of 140 characters fits inside an SMS text message that runs 160 chracters. But yes, what is the SMS All then? They do very basic communities-oriented social network management running on SMS. Anyone can join, you don't need a PC (the service also works on PCs but PC penetration in Pakistan is very low). You don't need a smartphone (again, the vast majority of handsets in use in Pakistan are basic or featurephones, not smartphones). And all runs on SMS. You create your own account, set up your own little communities around what you like, be it your school mates or a fan club aroudn your favorite cricket team or the upcoming James Bond movie Skyfall, etc. Whatever. And then invite your friends to join and you can have a micro-blogging experience similar to Twitter, and updates and sharing like Facebook, but all built to run on basic SMS.
It works on all networks in Pakistan. Each message costs a very tiny bit and if you manage communities, there is a limit to how many messages you can send in mass-mailing type of broadcasts, where if you send a lot (or receive a lot) you are then asked to pay a little bit more. The have 4 million active users already, and 400,000 communities already set up within SMS All. They are the biggest SMS based social network in Pakistan (probably in the world) and are now starting to expand abroad. Very VERY clever simple service that brings 'communities dominate' social networking experiences to those who are not yet owning a PC or tablet or smarpthone and can't use the 'traditional' big social networks like Facebook. They have all the usual suspects from user-generated content to citizen journalism to various political parties using it - they will have the actual political party internal elections even run on SMS All for one of the parties that is very active in social media. There is advertising and sponsoring and a free version on a limited scale where you can have the basic services totally free. Brilliant!
Brilliant, brilliant service - congratulations to the team that set it up, and if you want to spread a story of good will from the Emerging World markets, here is one fabulous success story from Pakistan. SMS All. And I hope this spreads soon to all major parts of the Emerging World, lets not keep it only a Pakistani secret, eh? See more at their website SMS All.