Posts categorized "Messaging"

XKCD Comic Perfectly Captures Sad, Fragmented State of Messaging / Chat Systems

Xkcd 1810 chat systems

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...
  • and...
  • 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:


Facebook Messenger's "Instant Video" Lets You Simultaneously Use Video and Chat

FB instant video

The messaging wars continue! Today Facebook Messenger added "Instant Video" to it's iOS and Android app, allowing you to easily share live video while still in a text chat. Facebook has had "video calling" since back in May 2015, but that requires both parties to answer the video call in the same way that Facetime, Wire and every other video app does it.

"Instant Video" is different:

  • VIDEO STARTS OUT ONE-WAY - Only the video of the person initiating "Instant Video" is shown. The recipient sees the video of the sender, but their video connection is NOT enabled. Now, the recipient can start sending video, but they don't have to.

  • AUDIO IS OFF INITIALLY - When the sender starts their video, the recipient receives the video without any sound. They can easily start getting sound by tapping on the speaker icon on the video, but this is great because often you are having a text conversation precisely because you don't want to use audio.

  • YOU CAN STILL SEE THE CHAT - The video overlays the upper right corner of the chat window, but that's it. You can still see the chat messages and continue having your chat.

This last point is quite important and useful. This "Instant Video" lets you add video to a chat, while still allowing chat to be the primary communication medium.

Predictably, there was a great amount of media coverage of this launch today. Some noted that this was yet-another-way Facebook was cloning Snapchat. Others called this an answer to Google Duo.

Regardless, I immediately saw a personal use case. Occasionally I will go to a local coffee shop to pick up muffins for my wife and I. The flavors are always changing. If I don't see one I think she'll like, I often wind up calling - or texting her with the flavors. But it would be actually a bit easier and faster if I texted her "which one do you want?" and then sent her a live video stream where I panned back and forth across the choices. Sure, that may seem a silly use case... but it immediately sprang to my mind.

For "Instant Video" to work, a couple of conditions need to be true:

  • YOU BOTH NEED THE LATEST MESSENGER APP - You need to have the latest version for either iOS or Android.

  • YOU BOTH NEED TO BE *IN* THE CHAT - This is key. You can't just open up Messenger and start sending video to someone who is listed in your contacts. You need to actually be in communication with the other person.

Once this second item is true the video icon on the top of the screen starts pulsating - at which point you can start sending "Instant Video".

I'd note that this is the same icon used to initiate a "regular" video call. However, when you are in a chat with someone else the pulsating icon means you can do this new "Instant Video" style of chat.

I found I really liked the overlay aspect. Here's the view I saw on my end:

FB Messenger video overlay

It worked very well to continue the text conversation while having the video right there, too.

It's an interesting addition as Facebook continues to try to make Messenger be THE tool that people use for messaging. Facebook has this advantage of having an absolutely massive "directory" of users (see "the Directory Dilemma") and so we may see this helping with keep people inside of Facebook's shiny walls.

What do you think? Do you see yourself using this "Instant Video"?


Facebook Messenger Launches Group Conference Calls (Audio-only)

Continuing their efforts to be THE communication platform you use, the Messenger team at Facebook rolled out "group calling" this week within the Messenger app on iOS and Android. The new feature was announced by David Marcus, head of the FB Messenger team. Right now this is audio-only (i.e. not group video) and per media reports is limited to 50 participants.

I had to go to the AppStore and upgrade the Messenger app on my iPhone to the latest version, but once I did, I suddenly had a phone icon in the upper right corner of a group chat:

FB groupcalls 1

Tapping that phone icon brought me to a screen where I could choose which of the group members I wanted to bring into the group call:

FB groupcalls 2

After tapping "Call" in the lower right, Messenger launched the call and gave me feedback about who it was connecting, etc:

FB groupcalls 3

It then connected those who were available and four of us were in a group conference call:

FB groupcalls 4

As you can see in the screen captures, I had the standard buttons to mute my microphone and to activate the speakerphone.

AUDIO QUALITY - The audio quality was quite good. I couldn't find any technical info about what they are doing "under the hood" but one of the folks on the call understood that it was WebRTC-based, which would then imply the use of the excellent Opus audio codec. We experienced a couple of audio hiccups but nothing outside the normal VoIP experience and nothing that really detracted from the call. It certainly sounded like a rich, wideband-audio connection.

We didn't stay on the call for long as I didn't want to take their time (or my own), but exiting the call was simple and brought us right back into the group chat to continue our communication.

MOBILE-ONLY - One concern noted by a couple of folks was that the incoming audio call only rang on their tablet or phone, i.e. the iOS or Android app. It did not ring inside of Facebook in a desktop web browser or in the Messenger.com website.

Beyond that, though, it seemed a very straightforward and positive experience.

Now, Facebook Messenger is not the first to do this, of course. Skype has had group audio and video calls for years. As Venturebeat noted, in March of last year Line launched group calling for up to 200 people and WeChat added group audio and video calls in September.

Still, this is Facebook Messenger, with its 900 million users, providing yet another reason to NOT use traditional audio conferencing solutions.

I would suspect, too, that video conferencing can't be too far off, either, given that Facebook Messenger currently does let you do 1:1 video calls - and also that competitors offer group video calls.

It continues to be an absolutely fascinating time to watch the severe disruption of traditional telecommunications... and this move by Facebook is yet another example of how the ways we are communicating are changing.

What do you think? Will you use the group calling within Facebook Messenger?


Facebook Takes On Snapchat With Launch of "Messenger Codes" To Easily Connect Users

On the eve of Facebook's major "F8 Developer Conference" happening April 12-13, the company has launched a clear attack on Snapchat's "Snapcode" method of connecting users with their new "Messenger Codes". If you go into the newest version of Facebook Messenger on iOS (which is the only platform I have to test right at this moment) and click on the gear icon in the lower right labeled "Settings", you now see a brand new profile screen:

Facebook messenger code settings

There are two things to note here:

  1. The circular shaped code around my profile image; and
  2. The new short URL of m.me/dyork which brings me to a web version of Facebook Messenger. (More on that in a different post.)

The circular code clearly reminded me of Snapchat's "Snapcode", where mine is:

Snapcode dyork

And sure enough, when I clicked on the "People" icon at the bottom of the Messenger app, the first option on the top is "Scan Code":

Facebook messenger scan code

Since I had learned about these codes via a tweet from Chris Messina, I pointed my phone at my laptop screen where his Messenger Code was visible:

Fb messenger messina

As I got closer to the code, the Messenger app automagically recognized the code and put me into a message window with Chris:

Fb messenger messina success

I didn't chat with him as I didn't have a reason to do so and I don't recall us actually meeting. But I could ... it was this easy to get connected.

In a similar way to Snapchat, from the "Scan Code" window there is a symbol in the lower left corner that lets you access your phone's photos. So if you receive a Messenger Code via some other method (such as Twitter where people are already posting their codes using the #F8 hashtag) and save that image to your photos, you can access it from the "Scan Code" page and connect with the person.

From that same "Scan Code" page you can also tap "My Code" to see your code. Here's mine:

Fb my code

I can now share that Messenger Code out through the icon in the upper right and get it out into other social services (as I did on Twitter), or via text message, email, DropBox or anything else.

(Amusingly, while I could share the image out to Snapchat, the image is shared as square and since Snapchat uses full vertical images it cropped the image... meaning that the full Messenger Code would not be displayed and presumably would not work.)

So What?

At this point you may be saying "so what?" and wondering what value this really brings.

As I wrote about last year, messaging is all about "the directory dilemma", i.e.

People will only USE a communication application if the people they want to talk to are using the application.

It's all about having the most massive directory of users and growing that directory.

As Snapchat has demonstrated, the use of these "user codes" takes away the friction of figuring out how to connect with someone.

Over the past months a number of people I know have changed their Twitter and Facebook profile images to be their Snapcode. All I need to do, then, is point Snapchat on my phone toward their image and... ta da.. I can send them a connection request. No worry trying to look up their name... or figure out which of the many "Dan Yorks" I am if they are trying to connect to me.

Simple. Easy.

In many ways it's the proprietary version of QR codes... although focused on connecting two users rather than (as is often the case with a QR code) sending you to a web page or other site.

I expect we'll start seeing people change their Twitter profile photos to include their Facebook Messenger Code.

If people do, Facebook can steal the messaging from that rival platform. If you advertise your Messenger Code as the profile on another service, you are effectively saying "I prefer to get Facebook Messenger messages".

Take away the friction of connecting and let users advertise how to connect on your messaging platform.

If I were the organizer of an event, and I wanted to use FB Messenger as my primary messaging app, I could very easily see adding my Messenger Code to the event website, or even to printed flyers that might hang in a local coffee shop, library, gym, school or wherever...

Simple. Easy.

What About Brands? Facebook Pages?

I could see a huge benefit to brands to be able to publish these Messenger Codes, particularly with the expectation of "chat bots" being unveiled at F8 this week.

Again, from Facebook's point of view, this would keep the messaging within Facebook's walled garden, and continue to keep Facebook having the biggest directory of active users.

Tonight I couldn't discover anything similar in the Pages app or any other place. But you would think it would be coming... we'll have to stay tuned to F8 coverage this week to find out more.

What About Messaging Spam?

But if you publish your Messenger Code everywhere, what about spam?

Another good question... and since I published my Messenger Code on Twitter, perhaps I'll find out the answer over the next day or so! :-)

Perhaps Facebook will filter them all into the "Message Requests" that was very hard to find. I don't know! I have to think they will do something to ensure Messenger doesn't descend into the spam pit as email has.

How Else Can Messenger Codes Be Used?

We'll have to see what they tell us at the "F8 Developer Conference" this week... stay tuned!

What do you think about these Messenger Codes? Do you think it will help in connecting you with people? Will your promote your code? Or do you think it is all a waste of time? Let me know in the comments or on social media...