Tuesday, December 10, 2019

clueless in techieland

I've had this question for years but it had never been in the forefront of my mind enough to ask it. But the same mysterious formulation that I've seen occasionally all that time is cropping up on political candidate signs, and I thought I'd ask about it.

It consists of an instruction, "Text [word] to [number]." For instance, on Elizabeth Warren's campaign signs, it reads "Text IOWA to 24477."

What does this mean? What is this number? It's usually five digits long, and it's printed without hyphens, so it's not a regular phone number. What kind of number is it, and by what means do you text to it? And what happens if you do? What sort of responses do these instructions generate, and by what means do they reach you?


  1. "Text IOWA to 24477" means that you can send the message IOWA to the number 24477 and expect a response from the Warren campaign.

    The number is the type of address that is used for SMS (short message service) messaging, often called texting. SMS is a protocol from the 1990s. Most cell phones are equipped with SMS capability, including very basic phones from fifteen or twenty years ago.

    Your phone probably has this functionality; you could check the printed manual, if there is one, or on line if there isn't one.

    To send that text, you would start the SMS function on your phone, enter the address 24477, then enter IOWA. The Warren campaign's response would come in on your phone in the place from which you sent it, and would contain instructions on what to do next (sign up for text alerts, donate, volunteer, etc.).

    I think that answers all of your questions. Happy to answer more.

    1. Am I to understand that "start the SMS function on your phone" is techie language for "send a text (using the following instructions)" and that "the address" is "the phone number"?

      You know, if the original instruction had been "Text [word] to [ten-digit phone number]" I would have understood instantly. I know how to send a text to a phone number. It's that the number is five digits long that totally threw me. Phone numbers aren't five digits long and nobody ever, at any time, ever said anything in my presence to inform me there were ones that were.

    2. Sorry, removed a comment because it was in the wrong place.

      If you have sent texts from your phone to another phone, texting to the five-digit number works the same way, but it isn't a phone number.

    3. Saying "it isn't a phone number" is only designed to confuse. It was the fact that it didn't look like a phone number that confused me in the first place. Apparently you use it like a phone number, that is, you enter it into your own phone like one. That kind of makes it a phone number. That it isn't answered by a phone doesn't disqualify it. Texts aren't always answered by a phone. Lots of phone calls aren't answered by an actual phone, either: Redirects. Some message systems. That doesn't make their numbers any less phone numbers.

    4. I was trying to answer your question "What is this number?" and took it quite literally. It is not a phone number, but yes, you use it in your texting app as if it were a phone number.

  2. I left something out. There are many companies that make it easy to set up a text-to-donate or text-to-whatever system. I found some with this web search:

    sms text to donate

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