In the very last couple years, messaging has been one of the eldorados of the web: whether it’s Snapchat, Whatsapp, Kik, or even Twitter, there has been no shortage of new messaging apps. Put aside that they’re all closed silos which limit you to communicating only with friends who use the same app as you do, I believe the tech community is also missing an amazing opportunity by limiting these apps to messages sent by people to other people.
The great thing about all these apps is that they all tend to have very specific differentiators: durability, anonimity, one to one vs. one to many… etc. However, the one thing they all have in common is that they only let users send messages to other users.
Back in the early 2000’s, we also had a huge wave of messaging tools: ICQ, AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger… as well as the more open Jabber and IRC. These were running on the desktop when today’s apps run on smartphone.
One thing that the first wave of messaging platforms did more or less well was bots. These were ‘contacts’ in your roster that were not people. They were machines to which you could talk, or from which you could get messages. Some of them could also act as proxies to send messages to an offline user or translate messages on the fly, while some others only interracted with you: answering questions, sending specific alerts, etc.
The modern messaging apps do not have these bots for the largest majority. Of course, some Twitter accounts could be considered as such but they’re mostly ‘hacks’ where normal ‘user accounts’ are used to post content.
Now, what if, say, Siri was accessible on these networks? Wouldn’t it be amazing if there was a Siri-like account on any of them to which I could ask questions and get answers? Rather than a human to human messaging platforms, that would also open the door to human to machine. But also even machine to human, with bots that would message me when things I should care about happen.
Finally, we could also imagine a world where these platforms could be used for machine to machine communication: an instagram ‘bot’ could send the pictures I take to my Dropbox ‘bot’ to back them up. This may sound familiar: if you’re an IFTTT users, this is obviously one of the things you can do very easily.
The new browser
The desktop paradigm is probably living its last iterations. The smartphone interface is already quite far from what it was on our laptop computers, and it’s probably geared toward something new… but I feel like it’s probably more urgent to re-invent the browser on our phones.
Each of these messaging platforms couple the app (client) and the network: I can’t use the Snapchat app to get messages from Whatsapp. Decoupling this would probably turn these apps into a new kind of browser where the content is not linked to the app consuming it.
Some people believe it’s interfaces like Google Now or Wildcard… and I agree this seems like a reasonable path forward. However, at this point, these new browsers do not have enough content. That gap could be closed if these apps became clients to the messaging platforms.