Building Netsob: Episode 7 – The New iUniport SMS Alert and the Resulting Conundrum

This is the ninth and tenth entries in a series of entries which follows Sorbari Akpea, a young, ambitious, Nigerian entrepreneur, as he tries to build the next internet giant called Netsob. The original posts were entered into his journal at 3:33pm on the 8th of April, 2012 and 9:14pm on the 8th of May, 2012 respectively. You can find the complete entries published so far here.


I’ve been working tirelessly since we were forced to suspend our subscription service because of some problems we had with Facebook and today I’m glad to announce iUniport’s new and improved subscription feature – the iUniport SMS Alert.

The iUniport SMS Alert gives users the ability to receive iUniport news update as text messages directly on their mobile phone, free of charge. The subscription process is simple, straightforward and, of course, free. All users need to do to subscribe to the site is click on the Subscribe link, select exactly what they want to subscribe to and submit the form. A text message will then be sent to them, which they have to reply to to verify their phone number and then they’re subscribed.

I really think this form of subscription will be better than our previous Facebook subscription feature as it delivers the news update directly to the users. And since the news update is delivered via SMS it is very short and straight to the point making it easy for our users to read and understand.

The Resulting Conundrum

After running the new iUniport SMS subscription service for about one month now, I’ve noticed a weird trend; something that has had me confused for some time now: I call it the Subscription Conundrum. As I had hoped, the SMS subscription feature had been much welcomed by our users. They loved it more than our previous Facebook subscription feature because it gets the news to them faster. So we’ve been getting a lot of subscription over the past one month.

However, this is what I’ve noticed that has me confused. Some users come to the site, click on the subscription link, select what they want to subscribe to and submit the application. But when our verification text message is sent to them for them to reply to it and complete the subscription process, they don’t. They just ignore it.

The first few times this happened, I thought maybe these users had entered incorrect phone numbers. But when it began to reoccur continuously, I concluded it can’t be incorrect phone numbers. Then I thought maybe our system wasn’t sending them the text message. So I troubleshot our script, checked for bugs and rewrote some codes, but even when I was certain our script was okay, the occurrence continued.

I didn’t know what was causing it so I had no idea how to solve it. I just sat down and watched it grow. People who hadn’t replied to our verification text message were gradually increasing more than the people who had replied to the text and in doing so confirmed their phone numbers. And since you need to confirm your phone number before you can start receiving our SMS alert, it’s easy to see how this problem was seriously killing our subscriber’s list.

At a point, I became so frustrated I wanted to just manually subscribe the people with unconfirmed phone numbers but I later decided against it. My reason was that one of the people with the unconfirmed phone numbers might have accidentally entered a wrong number and if we went ahead and subscribe him, we’ll start sending news update to the wrong person (i.e. unintentionally spamming him) and that’ll be really bad for the company’s image. That’s why we’re so keen in verifying phone numbers during subscription.

Either way, I really need to figure this out soon. If the cause of this anomaly is from our end, and we don’t find a way to solve it soon, our users will begin to lose faith in us and sore stories about our subscription system may begin to fly around. And you really don’t want that kind of press while you are still finding your feet. We’re still too young to be fighting bad press.