3Jam launches group SMS, nice

Updated

3Jam has launched a new way to texting friends in groups, and we think it’s going to do well. Multi-person texting simply isn’t possible yet, and with 80 million people with texting in the U.S. and growing, 3Jam may be hitting a sweet spot.And texting is the technology of the future. Among college students, there’s a 75 percent usage rate. (For the uninitiated, when we say texting, we’re refering to the short messages people send on their mobile phone, known as SMS, or Short Message Service).

Texting is a little awkward. You type on a small screen, and you’re only able to message one person at a time — until now. 3Jam is solves that problem. It lets you message more than one person — in fact, as many people as you want. Now, if you are running late to that concert, you don’t have to send a message three times to your friends to notify them individually. You just send it once.

We tinkered with 3Jam over the past couple of weeks, and it works well. On our Treo, it took a while to get used to, because the Treo messaging interface is different from most phones. But 3Jam has since released a special application for Treos, which makes things a lot easier. So for Treo or regular phone, it works smoothly.

Here’s how it works. On most phones, you type in: “text (friend #1’s name) (friend #2’s name)” This creates the group. Then you type in a message, and send it to “43526,” which is 3Jam’s short-code number. It is that easy. The message goes to those friends, as well as to your own phone.

Once your friends get the message, they can hit “reply” and send a message to the group too. 3Jam assigns a random number, say 54880, to the group, so that anyone in the group can message the group at that number through the day without having to retype the names.

The Treo app makes it even easier. It requires a download. But then it saves time. Under a “To” tab, you can pull down a menu to select the contacts you want to send to, and send the message to them.

(You can also go to 3Jam.com for directions on how it all works, though the Treo App will soon be available exclusively through Andrew Carton’s blog Treonauts until DEMO. Update: Specific link to Andrew’s post is here, and download itself is here.)

We talked with Andy Jagoe, chief exec of the small start-up. The idea for 3Jam arose when he tried emailing some people for after-work drinks. He found email only worked when people were sitting at their desk. He wanted to reach them all on their phones, where they were likely to be as they rushed for the door at the end of the day. Enlai Chu is the other co-founder.

3jam began testing a private version of this last year. He has since added a few key people to his team, including Thad White, from Yahoo’s mobile product team, and Tom Purcell, who was the first business exec at Danger, and who helped that company launch with T-Mobile.

The 3Jam service will go live officially on Sept 25, when the company launches at DEMO

White brought some “aha” insights from Yahoo, Jagoe explains. About half of all Yahoo’s traffic comes from messaging, either email or instant messaging. And a full one-third of the email traffic is to more than one person or to “reply all,” Jagoe says. If you enable multi-party texting, the thinking goes, you’ve got an immediate, huge market. There are 200 million people in the U.S. with mobile phones, and 40 percent of them are texting, but none of them are able to do multi-party texting.

From 3Jam’s trials, Jagoe says users are reporting they are using their phone more. Jagoe says multi-party messaging could mean a 30 percent increase in overall text messaging.

One user sent more 656 messages in a 4-week period, and some said they’d pay for the capability, Jagoe said.

(Update: We should have mentioned how 3Jam plans to make money. 3Jam wants revenue share from telecom carriers. Regarding pricing, no matter how many people are in the group, a reply counts as only one text message on their phone bill. Meaning, that if you send a group text message to four people, you don’t pay for four text messages, you pay for only one.)

We first mentioned 3jam back in May. At the time, the Menlo Park start-up had pulled in $500,000 of what was a $1 million venture capital commitment from New Enterprise Associates.