Text messaging is a term for short communications made through cell phones. It uses what is called the Short Message Service, and so is often called SMS for short. It is also sometimes referred to as txting, using the shorthand common in such messages as a way of dealing with short character limits and often bulky interfaces.
The origin of text messaging is somewhere back in the late-1980s and early-1990s. The first commercial texting took place in 1991, sent from a computer to a handset. It didn’t catch on for some time after these initial texts, and by the mid-1990s it was scarcely being used throughout Europe. By 2000, the service was being used with some intermittent frequency in Europe and Asia, although it was still rarely used in the United States, and fewer than 20 billion text messages were sent worldwide.
By 2001, text messaging had caught on and began to spread like wildfire, with the number of messages sent up to over 250 billion, a more than ten-fold increase. Young users especially seemed drawn to it as a quick and easy way to stay in constant contact. By 2003, more than half of all cell phone users were thought to be sending texts. It is now the most popular service used with cell phones, and it has become a fixture of modern life.
Text messaging is generally billed as an extra service by cell phone providers, either on a per-text basis, with an average of $0.10 US Dollars, or as part of a bundle package with a monthly fee, which brings the per-text cost down somewhat. The service represents billions of dollars worth of extra profit for cell phone companies, and as they use very little bandwidth relative to phone conversations, the profit margins are large.
Not only is texting used for person-to-person communication, but a number of groups have jumped onto the craze in recent years. Political campaigns, for example, have used it as a way to keep their supporters up to speed on events as they happen. Protesters and organizers have used text messaging as a way to stay connected during actions, mobilizing large groups of people in real time. Various businesses allow users to sign up for updates via text, or to receive bills this way. It can be used to stay up to speed on stock prices, sports scores, and any number of other small bits of data that change rapidly.
Since most phones have small keys and, in the case of numerical keypads, buttons may need to be pressed multiple times to find the correct letter, a whole slang of shorthand and acronyms has developed around text messaging. Replacing words with numbers, contracting words to single letters, and even substituting seemingly-arbitrary strings of numbers for entire sentences all make up the world of texting acronyms. Examples include phrases such as "c u l8r" to mean See you later, "r u OK?" to mean Are you okay, and "143" to mean I love you, where each number represents the number of letters in the word it substitutes.