58888followTimes Internet Ltd (Indiatimes) has launched an SMS based service called 58888 follow, which allows users to receive alerts related to specific celebrities. At present, Times is allowing users to stalk follow 51 celebrities. In a similar manner, it is similar to receiving updates based on tags. One can either subscribe on the web, or by messaging ‘Follow <celebrity name>’ to 58888.

On The Updates

Cost: The service is free of cost, and users only have to pay for signing up.  So far I’ve received 2 messages in the last 24 hours. So, though it is an editorialized free messaging service like MyToday, they are trying to keep their costs down.

The Messages: Since the subscription to updates from Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan, I’ve received the following message: “SRK got dirty wid Gauri. Chk Superstar play Holi wid his sexy wife on [link].” Note to Indiatimes, and, frankly, almost every major Internet portal in India – not everyone who visits your portal or subscribes to your alerts does it for the dirt quotient.

The second message appeared to be a quote from the actor about international flights, though we’re not sure if he’s mobile-blogging through SMS or this is a quote from an interview. Indiatimes will have to tweak the messaging a little, and regular little nuggets from celebrities is something that would be of interest to fans.

A third one was a link to a video, the message said, “Catch SRK in his struggling days as da star learns to kick ass on <link to video>.”

Monetization: could possibly be through sending advertisements to subscribers via SMS, or just increasing the consumption of their content via GPRS (and then monetizing content with advertisements). Remember that messages are a key driver of consumption of VAS in India.

Parental Lock: (By Preethi) Being a personal gadget and ubiquitous as it is, a mobile is easily accessible to children. How are channels such as Indiatimes ensuring messages and explicit video links such as the first Nikhil received are viewed by their target audience (teenagers and adults) and not age inappropriate users/kids? One might say that contemporary media such as TV and radio have made it easy enough for youngsters to be exposed to salacious content but they still enable concerned parents to protect their offspring through parental controls and the off button.

News Alerts By Topic?

Given the vast amount of content that Indiatimes has access to, via the Times of India Group, there’s no reason why they couldn’t set up alerts for multiple segments. For example, to current news events, for a limited period of time. A user could select a hot news topic (for example: Copenhagen or Telangana), and receive regular updates to the content, accessed via the Indiatimes mobile sites, or videos from the Times Audience Network. News topics, though, have a more limited lifespan than celebrity fixation. Those interested in stock markets would probably pay for company news alerts in addition to the price alerts that many subscribe to.