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TextPlus goes beyond free texting, boosts communities

When I bought my iPhone 3GS, one of the helpful Apple retail guys told me to give textPlus a try for sending text messages, as I'd bought into the cheapest texting plan AT&T offers. I've since graduated to unlimited texting, and had left textPlus by the wayside until I found out it had a blossoming community angle to the service.

While you can still send free texts until your fingers fall off, the latest version of textPlus (an ad-supported app, although there's a paid version as well) allows you to create, participate and join in Communities, which are much like topical group chat rooms seen on AIM back in the early days of the service.

Once you've set up a basic account using not much more than your name, zip code and birthdate, textPlus looks a lot like a big chat application. You have access to your own Address Book and can send a simple text to anyone with a mobile number and the ability to receive texts. They can text you right back, and it'll appear in your Conversations panel.

This is an easy way to see basic conversations, and if you're texting from a "dumb" phone you can still use the service as a simple conduit. This works one-on-one and in groups, although there are various commands for simple text input that'll allow you to traverse group conversations and name yourself, etc.

Read on for more...

Group chats, or "Communities" have had a boost in 2.5 of the app, primarily with a search feature. TextPlus has a list of recommended communities, but the search is quite good provided your group is named something sensible. As with any amorphous blob of users, there's a plethora of communities that have little to no activity, or are ephemeral at best, but there are also some solid foundations out there. I found a group of budding magicians, and found several entertainment communities worth chatting in. We added a TUAW community as well if you'd like to ask your favorite bloggers questions once in a while...

For free texts textPlus is a solid recommendation, but with communities and now a powerful search feature, there's very little reason to not try the free TextPlus app and see if it's your cup of tea. It's available for iPad (and looks great) and iPhone/iPod touch.

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