Yentas, the Messaging Gold Rush

Posted: January 19th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: facebook, messaging, Product | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

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We’re all a bunch of yentas and inventors from Samuel Morse to Alexander Graham Bell to Brian Acton (WhatsApp) have made a ton of money making it easier for us to chit chat. Communication is a time-tested gold mine that’s changing with the rise of new paradigms (like smartphones). With so much at stake, we’re experiencing an intense battle between all sorts of players vying to solve our messaging needs.

To name a small sampling ya got iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, GroupMe, Line, Viber, Kik, Tango, Skype, Slack, Google Hangouts (Gchat), Tencent QQ, Snapchat etc etc etc. They all have different twists to them but the general use case is the same: help people directly communicate.

These players differentiate in a few key ways:

Communication styles is the first way these messenger services start to differentiate. People like to communicate differently depending on where they’re at and what they want to say. You have short text (SMS-style), longer texts, pictures, videos, gifs, voice, ephemeral messaging, and who knows what will be next…VR videos?

Cross-platform is a big differentiator in the messaging wars. Many of the newcomers are smartphone only (iOS and Android generally). Skype crosses a number of platforms (Windows, OS X, Windows Phone, iOS, Android, Blackberry OS). This cross-platform support ensures the vast majority of computer and smartphone customers can use a messaging service conveniently on the device they have on them.

Interoperability is the next decision all of these messaging services wrestle with. The majority of the popular ones are single-protocol –i.e. ya gotta be on Google Hangouts to talk to others on Google Hangouts. When you go multiprotocol, you allow your users to talk to people outside of your messaging service.

Deciding how to approach each of these areas of differentiation can be a challenge, and implementing too much can slow down your ability to do anything cool. Supporting multiple communication styles adds complexity to both the code base and the UI. More communication styles limits what platforms you’ll be able to support with parity. A cross-platform strategy adds complexity to the development process — instead of building a feature once you build it per platform. Supporting multiple platforms can affect your ability to support these features and can result in a “lowest common denominator” type effect if you want a consistent user experience. Same thing with interoperability, you ultimately hinder your ability to support numerous protocols well (e.g. if you want to use SMS, you’re limited to 160 characters).

In the messaging game, getting better distribution (cross-platform, interoperability) makes it harder to do cool stuff. If you want that premium, cutting edge experience, you go for the 80/20 rule when it comes to cross-platform and not worry about interoperability.

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Of all these players, I’m digging Facebook’s approach. They have two massive horses in the race with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, which allows them to try out different strategies that will capture different segments of the market. WhatsApp is all-in on the cross-platform strategy and removing the $1/year fee removes the remaining friction there to get on WhatsApp. Sure, the experience won’t be great and definitely won’t be consistent for all users, but WhatsApp will continue to capture the low-end market where people want a cheap way to chat.

Facebook Messenger is going for the premium experience and taking the platform route. It’s single-protocol, it’s got a web presence and is on the major mobile platforms, but it’s focusing on the cool things. More importantly, Facebook is empowering other devs to do cool things within Messenger.

In the messaging space, being the best of breed might not mean squat. The network effect is too important, you go where your friends are. I love Facebook Messenger but I gotta admit, I’m a iMessage, Google Hangouts, email, SMS (non-iOS users) Facebook Messenger, Skype, WhatsApp kind of guy, in that order. I may like Facebook’s strategy the best but I go where my friends are.


One Comment on “Yentas, the Messaging Gold Rush”

  1. 1 Mike Siegel » Blog Archive Young Users said at 4:14 pm on March 31st, 2016:

    […] chat game is crowded, as I pontified on before. It’s hard to make inroads but one of the ways to get started is to piggyback on your social […]


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