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It takes a huge amount of complex technology to make Uber’s transformative service run smoothly. But without reliable text from driver to rider, it all falls down…

Here MEF Minute’s features editor, Tim Green, explains the role of SMS in the Uber service with additonal comments from Uber founder, Travis Kalanick. The original article appeared in MEF’s Future of Messaging Guide alongside more than 3o other use cases, interviews and articles.  The guide can be downloaded here for free.

What’s behind the ‘miracle’ of Uber? Here’s a company built by founder Travis Kalanick on a simple premise: tap a button, get a ride.

For millions of people used to waiting ages in the rain for a taxi or struggling to find a mini-cab number to call, it really is a kind of miracle. And they have truly embraced it. Uber launched in 2010 and now has quarterly bookings of more than $5 billion.

Making that magic happen requires lots of processing and hugely complex algorithms. Riders must be matched with drivers, routes plotted, payments allocated and shared. But there’s another essential component to the Uber success story that is less talked about. Text messaging.

Real time only

Uber uses SMS to keep riders up-to-date with the status of their request — when a driver accepts, when he or she is less than a minute away, or if the ride has been cancelled for any reason. Clearly, these messages must arrive in real time. When they don’t, the whole process falls down. And when Uber launched this happened. A lot.

Kalanick says: “Uber is a pretty seamless experience. It feels like living in the future. You can’t have your own private driver without having a great customer experience. And if you’re waiting 10 minutes and you haven’t been told, there’s a problem. And it’s crucial for the rider to have that information so he can connect with the driver. Initially, people were not getting the high quality experience that we were promising.”

Precious sleep

Uber had built its platform with a hosting provider, but decided to go down a different route. It teamed up with Twilio, which works specifically with app makers, letting them embed voice and text functions directly into their services using software.

Kalanick now says: “I sleep easier, and my engineers sleep easier because we’re not dealing with situations where it’s taking 15 to 20 minutes for a text to be delivered.”

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The Future of Messaging Guide explores the uses cases, platforms and technologies that are changing the landscape of messaging globally. From A2P to OTT, chat bots to smart machines, we explore how the world’s most powerful medium is shaping up for tomorrow.

The guide features over 25 cross-sector case studies and exclusive interviews that examine the power of messaging in all its forms from the humble SMS and chat apps to emerging platforms and explores what’s next for messaging.