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The great 2019 Valentine’s Day texting debacle

Nicole Culver Nicole Culver
Nicole Culver
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It’s Valentine’s Day, which means everywhere you look there are overpriced roses, heart-shaped candy, and even some genuine romance. It’s also the time of year you get messages from loved ones just to remind you they care—a text to plan your Galentine’s event, an e-card via text from your tech savvy mom, a quick text from your special someone. 

But not last year. Well, not everyone. 

In case you missed the news, a few months ago in November over 160,000 texts across all the carriers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, and more) that were sent on Valentine’s Day 2019 were delivered. That means NINE WHOLE MONTHS went by without loving texts being delivered, so when they did… “chaos” is a good way to describe what happened after. 

Missed (Message) Delivery

Nine months is a long time, and a lot happened between when the texts were sent and when they were received. According to The Verge, some people received messages from beyond the grave, as the sender had passed away in the nine months since sending the message. Others got unexpected texts from their ex, which is awkward at best, certainly not something most of us want to receive. Still more just got very confusing, out of context messages that could throw anyone for a loop and caused more than a few raised eyebrows. The senders had no idea the message was never received, and in some cases, may never know. The fact that this “snafu” (to put it nicely) happened is a pretty big concern since we generally expect SMS text messaging to “just work”—so I think what everyone wants to know is “HOW?”. 

How Texts are SUPPOSED to Be Sent

When text messages are sent, there are a lot of technical things happening that most of us don’t understand. That’s ok, but knowing just a little bit more about how texting works can help explain the how behind the “Great Valentine’s Day Text Snafu of 2019”. 

  • First, you compose your lovely “Will U B Mine? <3” text with all of your heart and soul exposed in those 10 letters, and hit SEND. 
  • Then, that message gets turned into 1s and 0s for computers to deal with and transmitted to a nearby computer server in some wireless antenna station, which stores the message in 1s and 0s while it figures out where it needs to go next. This is entirely dependent on where the sender is versus the recipient, and the computer gets to pick the optimal route to get that message to you in a matter of seconds.
  • The message may hop from one computer to another several times before you get the “Ding!” of true love delivered right into your beloved’s hand. Ideally, they respond and life is grand while that message works its way back to you. 

So how did those 160,000+ messages get stuck in the ether? One of the computer servers that receives messages to route them FAILED. Yes, a computer crash is responsible for this chaos and while human error was involved later, there’s nothing else to do but take a baseball bat to an old copier to have out your anger in this moment while you realize that we are all beholden to technology. 

Back to the failed server, all those messages got essentially frozen in time when the server crashed. The human error comes into play in that the company responsible for the server didn’t notice it was down for nearly nine months on November 7th, 2019. When the server was brought back online, all of those messages got released into the wild to be delivered properly, resulting in more than a little chaos. 

You can learn more about how texts get delivered, and what can happen to stop them, in our 5-part video series on message deliverability.

Don’t give up on texting

SMS technology is generally pretty reliable, so don’t look at this incident as a portent for future mass communication failures. Every once in a while, technology goes down and we all mutter under our breath while we wait for the wi-fi to turn back on and awkwardly avoid small talk. But most of the time, your emails will send and your texts will go through, with only minor delays. The company responsible for the server did ultimately take the blame for the incident and I am pretty sure will do whatever they can to avoid something like this happening in the future, so keep sending those texts with confidence. And don’t hesitate to follow up with “Did U get my txt?” if you don’t hear back. 

160,000+ messages not delivered (or in this case, delayed) is really small potatoes in light of the 6 billion messages sent every day, but server redundancy is critical to avoid things like this happening in the future. If you are sending business messages, make sure your messaging partner has a carrier-grade network in place.

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