Happy birthday, SMS! Today marks the 28th birthday of the SMS aka the Short Message Service, the way GSM phones used to send text messages to each other.
In other words, texting is now as old as the Big Bopper and Caligula were when they died.
Neil Papworth of Sema Group sent the first SMS message — “Merry Christmas” — to Richard Jarvis of Vodafone on December 3, 1992. The messaging standard existed as early as 1984 when the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) consortium added it to their roster of services. It took eight years for general availability on cellphone and another eight for the SMS to truly take off as carriers began allowing cross-border and cross-network messaging. According to the BBC by 2002 there were 2 million SMSes sent an hour in the UK.
The original SMS standard allowed only 160 characters and you had to carefully type your messages on keyboardless phones. Each text cost money so you had to keep things succinct and useful and emoji, texting slang (“ROFL”), and awful contractions (“u wot m8?”) became commonplace. The standard also defined Twitter’s original character limits since Jack Dorsey and friends originally designed the app for SMS interaction.
It’s been a long hard road for SMS. Despite being an original method of user-friend two-factor authentication it’s since been revealed to be pretty terrible at it, and in 2018 the FCC voted to make it a Title I service which means your ISP has a lot more control over your texts than you might like. Yet it’s still hanging in there despite Blackberry supplanting it with BBM and Apple trying to nail its coffin shut with iMessage. Even Google wants to kill it with RCS. With all that it’s easy to forget that, long ago, it was pretty exciting to get a cryptic message inviting you to a countryside rave or to get dumped over a green glowing Nokia screen. SMS ILY.