(This is part 1 in a series of 3 posts on the topic.)
A Brief History
Communication is woven into our modern lives perhaps more than ever before. What formerly required a trek across the continent is now as simple as touching the on-screen “Send” button. Over time, we began to replace paying a visit to deliver a message with more convenient means, such as writing letters, sending telegraphs, making landline phone calls, posting to newsgroups, sending email, making mobile phone calls, sending text messages, instant messaging, posting on social media, and voice/video chats.
What telecommunication company wouldn’t want to be at the center of this business? Notions of monopolies and anti-trust lawsuits aside, great profitability exists in providing the communication service that everyone uses. Over time, there has been (and will continue to be) great competition to reach the center of this market; that is, to become the “ubiquitous messaging service.”
Various organizations have held this role in the past. Historical examples include the US Postal Service, Western Union (before they did money transfers), and AT&T. After US regulators broke up the AT&T monopoly in 1984, we began to see telecom companies compete for market share. Since then, America has seen a fairly divided telecom landscape. Due to this diversification, I would argue that no company has held the title of “ubiquitous messaging service” within the past decade.
Let’s run through our earlier list of historical communication platforms, condemning as many as we can. Humor me, these conclusions are obvious:
- Paying a visit. This is great–if you have a teleportation device or LOTS of time/money.
- Writing letters. Not real-time. Limited to text and pictures.
- Sending telegraphs. Dead technology.
- Making landline phone calls. Dying technology. I will likely never pay for landline service.
- Posting to newsgroups. Dead technology.
- Sending email. Limited to text, pictures, and GIF animations. Not (quite) real-time.
- Making mobile phone calls. The norm for today’s voice communication, but limited to audio.
- Sending text messages. Requires cell phone service (or something akin to Google Voice). Limited to text and very small pictures/video.
Side note: I would say that mobile phone carriers have worked hard to make (and keep) text messaging today’s American ubiquitous messaging platform. (Now would be a good time to discuss pricing schemes for text messages and data services, but I digress.)
Clearly, there is a current desire for a better platform. The last three platforms in the earlier list (instant messaging, social media, and voice/video chats) are becoming the future of communication. Much of the communication innovation in the past five years has occupied this space. Many major companies have tried various permutations of these three, often with great overlap.
When looking at those companies trying to find the right mix of instant messaging, social media, and voice/video chats, we see that many of those attempts have failed. A bit of interpolation helps us to make sense of some commonly repeated mistakes:
- Mistake #1: Lack of features. People won’t use your stuff if it’s not the best. Pay particular attention to the features that your competitors do well. People want to see innovation, not duplication.
- Mistake #2: Exclusive participation. People won’t use your stuff if you refuse to play nicely with others. For example: I’ll likely never use BlackBerry Messenger, because I’ll likely never own a BlackBerry. Closed services are not a way to increase your customer base. (BYOD, anyone?)
- Mistake #3: Change in workflow. People won’t use your stuff if they have to go out of their way to do it. The last thing that people want is one more signup/login/website to check daily. (The inference here is that the communication giants have a competitive advantage.)
Next time, as we continue this discussion, we’ll dive into specific criteria for the “ubiquitous messaging service”.