How can I send text messages to people on various services through e-mail or some other gateway
December 11, 2007 11:12 AM   Subscribe

We'd like to build an application that can send text messages to people on various cell services. Think something like how twitter works where they give you their cell number, and then you can send messages to them. We've found an easy way to do it via e-mail if you know the service that the person is on, but I have to think there's a better way to handle this. The problem is I'm not sure what keywords to be searching on to find helpful information. Can you point me towards a breakdown of how to set something like this up or help me figure out what keywords I need to find it myself?
posted by willnot to Technology (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Consider something like Clickatell or some other bulk SMS gateway. They present a huge variety of APIs including HTTP, XML, SMTP (email), and FTP. Just be careful to read their pricing policies carefully as different providers have different termination costs (i.e. it costs more credits to message some providers vs. others..)

I've used them in the past and they're been fantastic. They let you set the message cost limits, auto-reload your account when it's running low, set the sender ID and tonnes of other options.
posted by TheAspiringCatapult at 11:30 AM on December 11, 2007

Best answer: You really have three choices:
1) Make the users tell you what provider they have and maintain a mapping of providers to email formats (like this).
2) Use a gateway service like clickatell.
3) Find a way to map phone numbers to providers, combined with #1.

In my experience, most services without a revenue model go with #1, because it's free. If there is money available, then #2 is used, because it is more convenient. #3 just seems like a monstrous pain in the ass.
posted by indyz at 11:30 AM on December 11, 2007

I'm not sure what you're doing that's different from FlipMail. I also don't understand why you can't ask them what service they're using when they give you their telephone number. Are is your question how to figure out what service people are using given only their cell number?
posted by rdr at 11:31 AM on December 11, 2007

Best answer: Oh, this is so me! I am researching gateways for work right now. The gateways have lots of APIs, but you have to sign up to get to play with them. They offer some free credits to send/recieive for you to play with before you buy some more. There are also Java wrapper libraries available, and probably other languages.

As mentioned there's Clickatell, but also there is also CellTrust, who seem to be a bit easier to use, and their support seems much better. They also seem kind of 'new on the scene' (simply based on forum use) so not sure how reliable they actually are. They may have exactly what you're looking for with their two way keyword feature. You associate a keyword + any subkeywords with an action and when they recieve a text for your keyword, they initiate the response/action/whatever. Let me know if I can assist further!

Oh, in terms of google keywords: SMS Gateway API
posted by theRussian at 4:41 PM on December 11, 2007

Even Google Calendar ( asks you what service provider you have when you register a cell phone to receive text messages. I'd take that as a good sign that mapping cell numbers to service providers is a difficult/impossible task and that the other alternatives are currently expensive or not reliable. If Google can't afford it, you probably can't either.

Google goes the extra step of sending a verification code to your cell phone that you have to enter back into the website before they will start sending SMS notifications to you. Other sites I use that send SMS notifications don't go through this verification step and just take it on faith that you are registering your own phone number.
posted by stoic at 5:27 PM on December 11, 2007

Due to number portability, there's no easy free way to find out which carrier is terminating a given cellphone number. (NeuStar maintains the database, which you have to query by SS7.)

There are plenty of messaging aggregators who will look up a recipient's carrier and relay your message for a couple of cents.

4INFO does this for free, but shows a brief text ad at the bottom of each of your messages.

The other option is just to spam all the carriers' e-mail->SMS gateways with each message - but in theory if you do this enough they'll block you.
posted by nicwolff at 10:38 PM on December 11, 2007

I use for sending email to cellular phones. Service is free and easy. Carrier selection is automatic. For example: would send text to phone 123-456-7890
posted by swarkentien at 6:22 AM on December 12, 2007

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