In one picture, this comic from xkcd nails the very sad state of fragmentation with our messaging systems today. The text says:
I have a hard time keeping track of which contacts use which chat systems.
And that is our major pain point today.
Think about it... do you know how to reach most of the people you need to communicate with?
Some readers may have just decided that they are going to ONLY use one service. They communicate on only, say, Facebook. Or WhatsApp. (Or in one case I know, someone has rejected all new messaging apps and will only communicate with email.)
And so if you want to communicate with them you have to use their one service.
But of course, if you want to communicate with other people, you have to use their service... which leads to this comic and the mental energy we all must expend to remember (names are made up):
- George likes to get Twitter DMs
- Sue and Jose only use Facebook Messenger
- Carlos only uses WhatsApp
- Heidi, Frederick and Laura only use Wire
- Your parents all use iMessage... except when they decide to use Facebook Messenger
- Your teenage kids ignore most messages except on Snapchat
- Nick only responds to Instagram DMs
- Jon is old-skool and can only be found on IRC
- Your work colleagues are best found on Slack... except a couple are also Facebook friends so you can reach them that way... and a couple of others are on Twitter and so you can reach them there
- Your friend in Asia prefers WeChat
- A number of people you know use Matrix and Riot.im
- and... the list goes on...
Think about the sheer amount of thought processing and memory we all must expend to keep this all straight in our heads! And yes, some tools and contact/address books can help... as can some clients.
But it's a mess.
Two years ago I wrote about why I thought that some degree of centralization was inevitable: The Directory Dilemma - Why Facebook, Google and Skype May Win the Mobile App War.
I still believe the "directory dilemma" is the key issue here. All this fragmentation can't last.
Naturally the large players would like us all to forget about the others and move all our messaging to be inside of Facebook Messenger, or iMessage, or WhatsApp. They have zero interest in sharing or federating because they are all about the lock-in and keeping people inside their pretty walled gardens.
And groups like Matrix.org are working on creating the kind of distributed, decentralized messaging I'd like to see. But they run into the issue that it's hard to do that in a way that's simple and easy to an end user.
We don't care about where Fred sends messages...
... we just want to reach Fred.
I do worry that in the end all our messaging will be inside the private, commercial walled gardens, because people will default to the ease of finding people. The big directories will win.
Right now it's a mess.
What do you think? What is our path out of this mess?
A related audio commentary is available: