Messaging — A Game of Thrones
Facebook is creating a new web. With one single King. We might want a “United Federation of Planets” instead.
The basic idea goes: Everyone uses Chat-Messengers. It is the dominant medium today.
The money bet goes: “(Chat) Conversation” is a great new way for businesses to interact with customers in a million ways. Creating a great platform and — if used dominantly — a new web over time.
Many great ideas from startups have been seen, messengers added platforms (Kik, Telegram, Slack, Skype, WeChat) & one player tries to own it all: Facebook.
To catch up on the topic, I recommend to read Messina’s great piece on messaging as a platform from January. It nails the potential — and names it: Conversational Commerce aka. #ConvComm. Plus the tons of articles explaining how messaging is evolving to become *the* platform aka. the next web: with Chatbots, Live Chat, AI, etc.
I want to take a different perspective. A shot at explaining what this development might mean on global basis. How it will change the balance of the global ecosystem and how there might be an unexpected alternative.
The bumpy road to a connector
The project I have been working on for the past 3 years at Deutsche Telekom is called RCS. The new SMS, if you will. And it was as much pain as it carries potential today — unrecognized so far.
RCS started 6 years ago as an alternative app to Whatsapp by carriers. It failed first try. After that, we changed it to become the successor of SMS. As new global messaging standard.
For quite a while the focus of RCS has been on rebuilding the federated global SMS structure with better features, agreeing on and deploying the new messaging protocol with every carrier out there.
It was like convincing all carmakers on the planet to agree on one electronic battery — and stop charging for current cars same time.
Quite a pain as said, until recently big cloud players like Google or SAP saw the potential and jumped the ship. Creating solutions for carriers to deploy RCS with less time & cost.
“Standard” still sounds pretty unsexy to me as a Startup Guy — even after 3 years at Telekom.
But it has unpairable upsides: Neutrality and Openness.
When I started to realize this, I began to fight for it like crazy. A perspective I would like to outline to you. Allow me to use this metaphor — because it works and because I love Star Trek:
To create a “United Federation of (Messaging) Planets”.
“United Federation of (Messaging) Planets”
There is this one thing about SMS that differentiates it from all other messengers: it is neutral.
SMS was never owned by one company, not even by 10. Almost like http. It is a global standard, open to any Company via APIs, governed by many, many carriers bound to national laws, not to one CEO. Now by adding messenger features, it can live up to its future potential.
For the first time Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon (and new players to come and rise) can connect their walled-gardens and next ecosystems around messaging without losing face.
Something SMS did for years: Connecting all users and OS’s. But it was lacking most current messenger features. The idea occurring at a certain point: Creating a federated, “global messaging web” with full feature set & access for anyone. For an open messaging web.
Every startup, every company on this planet can use SMS today and plug into APIs to do so. RCS will stay the same.
Facebook on the other hand started to leverage its power position already and shut out “un-selected” startups, bots and aggregators from its platform.
Telegram and Slack are different and a great starting point: they are open. Anyone can build and deploy bots & services.
But: if global adressability (what we call “reach”) is crucial for a “messaging web”, will those messengers ever stand a chance?
The Facebook Messaging Web
Facebook is building a huge Ecosystem around Messaging right now. With the biggest chance ever for a monopole in future Communications, Commerce and Internet Access.
An ecosystem that is more closed and more complete than any other before: Google (Play Store, Search, Chrome, Ads, Payment…) or Apple (App Store, iCloud, Apple TV, CarPlay, Apple Pay…) or Amazon (Commerce, Prime, Instant Video, Music, (future) Logistics,…)
A glimpse at the elements:
Facebook Newsfeed (Replacing Browser and Ads)
Facebook Search (Replacing Search & Phone Number in terms of discovering people and businesses)
Instant Articles (Replacing Newspapers & Ads)
Atlas (Replacing Google Ads)
Facebook Pages (Replacing commercial websites & Google Places: 50Mio Businesses on Facebook today)
Facebook Messenger (Replacing Communication: Free Chat, Voice Calls, Group Calls and Video Calls)
Facebook Businesses on Messenger (Replacing all B2C: Chatbots instead of Apps, Live Chat instead of Calls, Email or Support, Sponsored Messages instead of Marketing Tools,…)
Apps on Messenger (Replacing App Stores & Mobile OS)
Messenger Payment (Replacing Banking potentially)
Internet (Replacing internet access: Internet.org, Terragraph, ARIES)
Instagram (Replacing magazines & magazine ads)
Whatsapp (Replacing Competition)
If you connect the dots, you can see how a power-position like no other is growing here.
Unmatchable by any other single digital player — no matter how big.
Facebook merges dominance in future Search, Ads, Communications, Apps, Social, Commerce, Marketing and Payment under one umbrella.
A “new web” needs diversity
To match a future messaging web with all elements of Facebook described above, a global communication network, governed in a federated way, is needed.
As basis for and to foster a distributed, diverse global ecosystem growing around it.
There are many great startups around in this new messaging web space already (Userlike, Orat.io, Letsclap, just to name a few) — and amazing new opportunities we couldn’t even figure out yet. Because the current dominant messaging platform is such a closed system.
What exact roles global software/cloud players, hardware players, carriers, publishers and startups will play, has to be found out. A basis at least is set.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying a carrier standard is the only way to accomplish an open messaging web in 2016. Not even the best one, I guess (lack of speed; federated decisions). The point is the existence of a future open basic common denominator that can be utilized. Where more agile players (big and small) can grow more enhanced systems upon.
Other than in a “Facebook-only Messaging Web” there is enough room for all players to innovate, grow, benefit, create new services and — of course — generate revenues.
The big and small players, the corporates and the startups, have a chance to collaborate openly (while still acting independently) — to not face a branded, single-point-of-control messaging web like we might be headed to right now.
That said: Live long and prosper. 🖖
Note: The opinions expressed here are purely my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.