Messaging: Yesterday vs. today & tomorrow


What do you like about your messaging app?

What do you like about your messaging app and why do you continue to use it? Is it because all your friends use the app? The app seamlessly gives you the ability to: make calls over the internet, message pictures, video, stickers, and memos? It has advanced group messaging features and lets you create channels based on topics to segregate your conversations or create ad-hoc groups or side-chats? Maybe you like the app’s minimalist approach, reliability, and limited features? Or you love the frictionless onboarding process? Or you like the fact that it is free?

There are many messaging apps to like and love

Different messaging apps appeal to various groups of users based on geography, culture, environment, context, and purpose, and there are certainly a lot of successful messaging apps to choose from focusing on different markets and demographics and some with unique offerings.

Messaging apps are the most used apps — with over 2 billion users — and most engaging apps on mobile regarding times the apps are used, the time people spend messaging, and the ratio of daily active user counts to total installs. “About 70 percent of people who use WhatsApp use it every day, which kind of blows away everything else that’s out there.” — Mark Zuckerberg explaining why Facebook bought WhatsApp.

If success is the number of active users on a platform, Facebook’s WhatsApp crossed a billion monthly active users in the beginning of 2016. Facebook’s Messenger app went from 900 million monthly active users in April 2016 to 1 billion in July 2016 and was the most successful growth hack of 2015, growing 31% year-over-year.

Tencent Holdings, a Chinese company, has two mobile messaging apps, WeChat with over 650 million active monthly users as of 2015, and QQ mobile with 829 million users as of January 2016.

Different messaging apps for different collaborations

A typical user uses multiple messaging platforms for various collaborations.

You may be using slack at work because of its integrations and channels, WhatsApp for international communications and large group chats, Snap Chat for ephemeral messages, Facebook Messenger to keep in touch with friends, Twitter direct messaging to communicate with followers, Viper for secure communications, or FireChat to connect with people over Bluetooth even without an internet connection, and so on.

There’s never been more choice when it comes to mobile instant messaging. To make messaging apps more engaging midst fierce competition, messaging apps have added various multimedia content like stickers, photos, videos etc. in the past.

In the simplest sense, and in the interest of keeping the apps lightweight and relevant, it is important to track what content people are using when messaging. Knowing what users are using and not using allows the app publisher to tune the app for the general audience the app addresses and the differences between people within the target audience. A group of users may be using stickers and animated gifs heavily. Another group may be taking pictures of whiteboards in a work environment and applying a particular filter to clean up the image by adjusting white levels.

Tracking which users are using which part of your product is key to improving the experience that your app offers to an individual user.

Numerous tests have shown that app users prefer lightweight apps with clear interfaces, as they drive engagement, retention, and loyalty. An app developer can build a better experience for her users by intimately understanding the traits of various groups of users.

Some examples include:

  • Who uses emojis in their texts?
  • When sending a picture, did users use the camera in the app, or picked one from an album, or picked the last picture they took? What percentage of pictures are they scribbling on, editing, or applying filters to, before messaging it?
  • Who uses clipart stickers, animated stickers, scribbles?
  • Are they making calls from within the app? Are they messaging voice and video memos?
  • Are they sharing contacts, links to web pages, links to apps on a app store?

Keeping users in the app

In-app purchases and in-app advertising being the prominent ways for your app to be financially successful, you have to keep the users in your app to drive usage. Another app is just a few taps away.

Messaging as the new interface to everything

Messaging platforms are perfect for one-off things where launching a specific app to do a task is laborious and time-consuming. One way is to allow users to do repeat tasks from within the messaging app using integrations and roBOTs.

Messaging Reimagined

Imagine the world where you do not have to launch the app, login, navigate to the right screen, perform the task and then go back to the messaging app. Imagine the world beyond deep-links to other apps. Imagine the ability to

  • request an Lyft ride at my current location,
  • order my favorite pizza,
  • buy tickets to the Warriors game,
  • get the status of Virgin America flight 415,
  • send money to a friend,
  • make a call using Skype,
  • get the lyrics of the song that’s playing in the Music app,
  • bring my car out of the garage and turn the heat setting to comfortable,
  • check order status of my last Nordstrom purchase,
  • notify the coffee-bot to turn the coffee machine on,
  • turn the house alarm to stay mode,
  • close the garage doors,
  • buy a stock,
  • find a conference room at a specific time,
  • create a poll,
  • provide real-time translation to and from a language during messaging

Telegraph, WeChat, Facebook, Slack and many other messaging app publishers are imagining an environment where messaging is the interface to services and other apps.

assistBot: Welcome to assistBot
assistBot: I understand sentences & /commands

Karen: /expedia VA415
assistBot: Virgin America flight 415 from SFO to ORD is on time.

Karen: get me an Lyft ride to my current location
assistBot: Getting an Lyft ride to your current location:
595 Market Street, San Francisco, California
assistBot: Mark A. (Red Prius — 7ABC123) is arriving in 4 min.
assistBot: Where are we going?
Karen: SFO airport
assistBot: Thank you for using Lyft. Have a great flight.

Karen: /expedia checkin VA-415
assistBot: how many check-ins?
Karen: no check-ins!
assistBot: Karen, you are ready to be checked in, please confirm your name and ticket details below.
*** Karen Sincoski, traveling from SFO to ORD
*** on Fri Jun 09 2017 departing in 58 minutes from Gate 56
assistBot: Type “ok” to confirm.
Karen: OK
assistBot: Your boarding pass was sent to your Digital Wallet.
assistBot: Click here to see boarding pass

assistBot: By the way, you have been selected for secondary screening.
assistBot: Have a nice day!

Apps as gateway bots to services

Apps on the phone are service providers to messaging apps and can talk to other apps just like how they can connect with an internet service to do things for me right from within the messaging app.


Slack, Telegraph, WeChat, and others have offered integrations or bots (roBOTs) to allow making the messaging app more relevant and useful to the users. Facebook is following and going the same route.

For example, if I need a service that translates messages in real-time between German and English, I install a bot or integration. If I need the lyrics of what my favorite Music app playing I install the Music Bot.

Better personalization

Not every user needs every feature offered by a messaging app. For example, some people may not need the translation feature that is very common with another group of users. Messaging apps need to continue to be lightweight for continued usage and acceptance. Personalizing the app using integrations and bots to introduce features and sub-features keeps the base messaging app lightweight while being useful to a large population of users.

Real-time Machine Interpretation

Real-time machine translation and interpretation of text between people speaking different languages including interpretation of cultural references. With geographically dispersed teams from different cultural backgrounds, messaging platforms need to become more interpretive than simply assisting with translations.

Interactive Text Messaging

Similar to Interactive Voice Response (IVR), interactive text messaging can provide a simple menu driven answers that can be preprogrammed and backed up with real human beings.

For example, users can access frequently asked questions, receive important product notifications, authorize and make payments, confirm transactions, take surveys and polls, and opt-in to campaigns, from within a messaging platform without the assistance of a human being. Messages can be escalated to humans when needed.

Intelligent bots

Some apps are already providing the ability to look up contact information from previous texts and email messages. An authorized and secure intelligent bot may listen in on the texts and start creating a Rolodex on behalf of the user.

As indicated in the examples above, Intelligent bots are expected to do a lot more than looking up a gif image based on a keyword.

Intelligent bots may call a cloud-based service to perform a task. For example, call an uber when I step out of an airport. Similarly, Local bots should be able to talk to other apps on the mobile device. The app can advertise to the messaging app the tasks they can handle locally. For example, if I have an OCR app installed on my device I should be able to redirect a received text with an image of a document to the local OCR app.

Autonomous Intelligent bots

An Intelligent bot maybe backed by artificial intelligence. Such machines are capable of responding to messages and asking intelligent questions to continue the conversation.

For example, chatbots rely solely on technology to answer questions asked in a text. Subjects like the weather, search, image search, news, and dating can be handled completely by technology. Autonomous bots are highly scalable and can be used by a lot of people as they rely entirely on technology but their range of tasks is limited.

Hybrid bots: Intelligent bots backed by humans

We are used to messaging with humans for customer support, who armed with access to backend systems and a list of macros, respond to text queries from multiple people. What about bots that use artificial intelligence and have humans to help them out? The range of tasks offered by autonomous bots is limited. There are efforts from companies to improve the quality of bots by backing them up with real human beings. Facebook M, is a personal assistant like Siri, but without the voice interface (Update: January 8, 2018, Facebook announced they are shutting down Facebook M)

Use of humans helps train the app while continuing to fulfill requests when the app cannot handle requests with an overall purpose to continuously improve the service.

The humans backing up intelligent bots could be employees of a company or crowdsourced community members.

Discovering bots

With the availability of so many bots and integrations, discovering bots becomes a real problem. Integration and bot discovery within the scope of the messaging app is key to users deploying the right integration/bot.

Of course, there are lists of bots available for slack. There are solutions on Telegraph messaging app that allow finding the right bot to answer questions. Building a bot to either discover bots or use the best bot automatically based on the query are obvious solutions.

In-app support and commerce over messaging

Messaging can be an integral part of mobile commerce, education, and other apps. When a user has a question they can click on a messaging tab and message a support member or a support-bot.

DecalsNow: Welcome Jaime
Jaime: I am trying to order decals to give away at a marketing event and the app will not let me reorder from my previous order #A2321342
DecalsNow: Yes, you ordered 200 square decals last month.
DecalsNow: Square stickers are no longer available. We have die-cut decals for 7 cents more each.
DecalsNow: I can automatically create a new order with die-cut decals. Would that be ok?
Jaime: Yes, but my budget it limited!
DecalsNow: Give me a second…
DecalsNow: Hi Jaime, I can approve die cut decals at the previous cost. Thanks for being a loyal customer.
Jaime: Great!
DecalsNow: Your new order number is #B232323.
DecalsNow: Thank you for your business.

Shopping assistance over messaging is being provided both in-app by merchants and by dedicated apps. Operator App is a messaging app that serves as a buying assistant and uses humans and technology to fulfill customer research and buying requests.

Luka is a messaging app that makes restaurant and cafe recommendations by learning and remembering tastes and dietary restrictions using artificial intelligence.

Business transactions from within messaging app

Facebook hired a well-known entrepreneur from payments industry to head messaging. When the messenger crossed 800 million users David Marcus clarified Facebook’s direction how interacting with service providers will become immensely easier if conducted from the scope of a message app that “has the context of your last interactions, as well as your identity — no need to ever log in — rather than downloading apps that you’ll never use again and jumping around from one app to another.”