Simplifying the crowded messaging space

The messaging space seems to be the antithesis of email. Where email works using common protocols and a variety of email applications that all support them, messaging apps rarely talk to each other and basically function in silos. The messaging space is a surprisingly tricky one to dominate but a few of the services are in the lead and I can’t help but wonder if they are about to be unsettled in the near future.

Skype announced an update to its Mac app that brings it closer to recent mobile app updates that seem to emphasise messaging more and I thought it would be interesting to find out what people use as their dominant messaging app/service. I asked people on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and received some answers I wasn’t expecting.

 

The trend seems to be that messaging is a mobile thing and the preferred messaging apps are either WhatsApp or iMessage. At least based on the responses I received on Twitter and Facebook. The responses I received on LinkedIn all included Skype as an option with others including Redphone and IBM Sametime. This is hardly a scientific survey but the differences are revealing.

I thought that, perhaps, Skype is so prevalent that as Skype improves the mobile experience it could become a compelling mobile messaging option with an established desktop presence. It could even become a dominant messaging and VOIP platform that could supplant other choices but that doesn’t seem to be happening at all. Instead, people opt for a more fragmented approach with a fairly clear distinction between the mobile and desktop options (unless you have to use Viber which has desktop and mobile apps).

I put together a rough comparison of the various messaging options in a Google Sheets document and when I look at the feedback I received from people who responded, it certainly isn’t the case that the most widely supported app wins. WhatsApp’s and iMessage’s dominance don’t seem to be affected by their limited support (either across mobile/desktop in WhatsApp’s case or Mac and iOS vs all other platforms in iMessage’s case). Mobile trumps desktop and becoming the industry leader requires a lot more than cross-platform support.

Perhaps, like Twitter, becoming the preferred messaging choice requires a simpler, frictionless experience and not the apparent UX overhead that comes with more complex, cross-platform alternatives?

That said, I wonder if the dark horse in this race isn’t, perhaps, Facebook Messenger? It has pretty capable mobile apps, is accessible in your browser and integrates with Skype. Bring along Facebook’s 1.5+ billion users and you have a pretty compelling choice largely because the people you would want to keep in touch with are a download away because they already use Facebook. Facebook’s aggressive push to persuade users to download the Facebook Messenger app makes a lot more sense because if you are already sharing your life with friends and family on Facebook and have the Facebook Messenger app installed on your device, why not just use that for your messaging requirements too? Skype then becomes just another road that leads to Facebook.

For now, though, the messaging space is pretty cluttered but consolidation has to happen at some point. The bigger players are going to want to start entrenching themselves even further and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some sort of WhatsApp-Facebook Messenger integration down the line to bring all those WhatsApp users into the broader Facebook ecosystem to create a massive, more coherent and encompassing social experience.

By Paul

Enthusiast, writer, Happiness Engineer at Automattic. I take photos too. Passionate about my wife, Gina and #proudDad.

2 comments

  1. Facebook should cannibalise WhatsApp and make one messaging app. Then they only need to worry about maintaining one service and WhatsApp all of a sudden has desktop/browser support.

  2. Twitter finally announced that it has removed the 140-character limit on Twitter Direct Messages. Great move, but is it too late to entice users who already use other private chat apps to switch to Twitter?

    Direct Messages now go beyond 140 characters. Go long, express yourself, wax poetic: https://t.co/zr2lnTfOI7 pic.twitter.com/o4eSv6Wv5u
    — Twitter (@twitter) August 12, 2015

    Last year I wondered if Twitter could become a strong contender for a primary messaging app but I doubt that could happen. Just look at user numbers for services like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger that Facebook announced recently:
    An image released as part of the July 2015 Facebook Community Update.
    Twitter becoming a popular chat/messaging option along with being an essential news and updates service has a certain appeal from the perspective of being able to simplify your choice of apps to do it all but with Twitter having only recently exceeded 300 million monthly active users in total, I think the winner remains Facebook with its massively popular private messaging options which never had Twitter’s 140-character limit.
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