UK Twitters awoke to a email this morning telling them that updates by text were no more (follow the reaction on Twitter itself). Unlike in the US where the standard has been to pay to receive texts, Twitter has been stumping up the cost of updating UK subscribers. That, according to Twitter has become a cost too much to bear:

It pains us to take this measure. However, we need to avoid placing undue burden on our company and our service. Even with a limit of 250 messages received per week, it could cost Twitter about $1,000 per user, per year to send SMS outside of Canada, India, or the US. It makes more sense for us to establish fair billing arrangements with mobile operators than it does to pass these high fees on to our users.

Whatever you think of their calculations, you can purchase SMSs much cheaper in bulk (for fractions of a penny) and I’m not convinced that it’s a huge number of people with text updates on at all times, if they can’t afford it then that’s fair enough. Negotiating with the carriers for a cheaper rate doesn’t seem the best solution to me, even if they reduce costs per user growth in Twitter usage will eat into their funding.

Better to take this opportunity to introduce advertising in some form.

If a third party service was to set up and use the Twitter API to send out free text updates, but send one advert for every ten (at the same time as a real update so you didn’t get a false alarm) I’m guessing it would have both a revenue model and a lot of sign-ups. If it introduced additional functionality (perhaps a contacts directory/speeddial thing so you didn’t have to keep typing out @conmpl1cated_names-withpuntuat|on), then it would be adding value to the SMS-based service.

So, perhaps Twitter could do it too — they at least have unfettered access to the API and with the Summize technology they could deliver context sensitive ads. If it worked in the UK, then maybe it could even expand to countries where — at the moment — they can still afford to text you.