The Next Comms Consolidation

Back in the late 90’s I remember, as a young graduate, going to my first industry conference: it was in Telecoms. The buzzword that year (/decade!) was ‘convergence’. Instead of having these separate media: telephony, data, TV, radio, we’d have a single digital pipe into the home that delivered all.

That has, more or less, happened but not in the way the industry incumbents imagined back then. For all their futuristic determinism, it took the disruption of software, wifi and smartphones to bring it about, and in ways that nobody anticipated (except Nikola Tesla, of course).

One Messaging App to Rule Them All

Today, the messaging app du jour, Telegram, hit 100 million users. Which got me thinking. We have WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Instagram, Google Hangouts, Skype, Slack, Yammer, Voxer etc… and let’s not forget the one that really spread it in the first place: Twitter. That’s a lot of choice. A lot of parallel productivity, or, to put it simply, waste. That’s not to say that all these products are not worthy — they evidently are — but, with such significant overlap of features, we are surely due some attenuation and/or consolidation. The perfect messaging app is out there somewhere, either in some clever coder’s IDE or already in the wild with a small but surging user base.

It’s easy to imagine that in 2–5 years time the Messaging industry will have converged into 2–3 messaging apps that we all use. After all, they are becoming increasingly easy to adopt and spread. Also, the features that we want are mostly already out there, just in different apps. The main threads seem to be:-

Realtime vs delayed time: text, audio, video. The likes of Skype offer great video and audio calls, but the delayed time features (recording audio or video) are less intuitive. Snapchat is best for the combination of realtime and delayed time, but it does not offer conference video/audio, like skype does. Most other messaging apps either offer delayed time only, like WhatsApp, or no audio/video, like Slack, which is, effectively, modernised IRC.

Event-based vs group-based: some conversations are driven by an event: a call or a meeting. When the event is over, a log or archive may remain, but the context is usually left in apps like Skype. Conversely, group-based apps, like Slack and WhatsApp provide a constant flow. In the case of Slack and Telegram you can even wire your group up to automated services that post updates.

So the killer app, the universal communicator, needs to be able to

  • Handle realtime video, audio, text and files
  • Seamlessly handle groups: easily adding/removing people and controlling the levels of access they have (eg. is a new joiner privy to the prior conversation in the thread, or not?)
  • Provide better control of post-event archive/filing. Eg. put all the meeting info into the event in your calendar, or have a timeline feature.
  • Provide truly universal access: mobile AND desktop. Currently some do, but some don’t (yes, you, WhatsApp!).

The first app to hit all four targets consistently has a good crack at superseding email. And that is no small feat.

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