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.
— Paul Jacobson (@pauljacobson) October 12, 2014
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.