AOL Instant Messenger is Shutting Down After 20 Years (Oct 6, 2017)
AOL has begun telling its few remaining users that AIM – its 20-year-old instant messaging service – will be shutting down in December. This clearly isn’t big news in the tech world, given that very few people still use the service and there are far better replacements in the world. But I’m including it today because it’s a great example of the way products tend to stick around long after the early adopter has moved on to newer, shinier things, and often long after most people might assume they’d been killed off. Whenever I write about BlackBerry, for example, I hear from people surprised to hear they’re still around, and most people would probably be surprised to hear that AOL as a company is still in business (albeit now owned by Verizon alongside Yahoo). That’s worth remembering because so much tech news coverage is driven by the cutting edge and the early adopter rather than covering the way mainstream users engage with technology, the products and services they use, and their perceptions of things. (Incidentally, I haven’t been engaging in the nostalgia many others have been today in regard to AIM – I never used it much, I suspect because it was far less popular in the UK, where I grew up, than here in the US).
China Effectively Blocks WhatsApp (Sep 25, 2017)
It appears that the Chinese government has effectively blocked WhatsApp entirely in the country through some fairly sophisticated and subtle means, making it more or less unusable for the population, an escalation over earlier partial censorship of certain content types. This is obviously a big blow to Facebook – we don’t know how many monthly active users WhatsApp has in China, and it’s clearly not as dominant there as in certain other markets given the popularity of the local messaging services, but it’s still an important market for WhatsApp given its popularity in Asia in general, and WhatsApp has also been about the only property Facebook has that’s operated in China even as the rest of the company has been shut out. The context here is the broader crackdown by the government against western tech companies and especially those that foster open communication at a time when the government is clamping down on dissent.
via New York Times
Skype Adds PayPal for P2P Payments (Aug 2, 2017)
Facebook Adds New Features to Messenger for Businesses (Jul 28, 2017)
Spotify Puts Collaborative Playlists in Facebook Messenger (Jun 21, 2017)
Spotify has launched collaborative playlist creation in Facebook Messenger by way of an “extension” (Facebook Messenger’s apps with its app). This will allow multiple friends to work together to populate a playlist even if some of them don’t have Spotify accounts of their own. That in turn turns Spotify into something of a music layer within Facebook rather than merely a proprietary service, and once again raises the question of whether Facebook would ever want to buy Spotify outright and integrate it more tightly into the Facebook experience. Facebook has so far entirely sat out the music market, doing the odd partnership here or there but never becoming a serious player, even though social features are often touted as one of Spotify’s strengths and an important feature for music services overall (though I have to add that a survey I ran a couple of years ago suggested social features are actually well down the list of the most important features users look for). At any rate, this looks like a neat addition to Spotify’s feature set, as well as a useful integration for Facebook Messenger, and a good showcase of what’s possible in Messenger now that the original bots vision has been replaced by something a bit more realistic and focused, with all the user interface elements needed to power something like this.
Amazon Considered a Bid for Slack (Jun 15, 2017)
Apple didn’t mention Business Chat explicitly during its WWDC keynote on Monday, but details about it have emerged during the week and it held a session on Friday morning at which it detailed the service for developers. What we know now is that Business Chat is an equivalent to Facebook Messenger for business to allow businesses to perform customer service tasks through iMessage. It won’t launch publicly until next year, but Apple is announcing a developer preview and all the tools necessary for businesses to create customer interactions using iMessage. The platform is pretty fully featured, offering not just text messaging but payments through Apple Pay, pickers for time slots, products, and the like, and integration with custom apps through the iMessage apps platform. Between this and the various other changes we’ve seen announced by Apple around iMessage over the past year, it’s evolving iMessage from a mere app to much more of a platform, very much along the lines I outlined in this article I wrote early last year. I think that’s super smart, and one of the best things about it from a customer perspective is that Apple isn’t doing any of this to drive new revenues or push advertising or any of the other things others in this space – notably Facebook – are doing. Apple is very aware of how personal a space iMessage is, and will prevent businesses from ever sending unsolicited messages – every interaction will be initiated by the user, from the first onwards. The platform looks clever, and giving developers and companies lots of time to implement it should mean that by the time this releases to the public next year, it should be really effective.
Facebook Reportedly Working on Messaging App for Kids (Jun 1, 2017)
Skype is one of those odd products – a fairly sizable communications property owned by a major tech company, and yet one which doesn’t make much money, isn’t growing much, and hasn’t really been focused on either messaging or social communication. It’s been clear, though, for some time that Microsoft would very much like Skype to be a big part of its consumer push and become more of a messaging- centric app, and the makeover it announced today seems like a big step in that direction. The new design, rolling out first on Android and later on other platforms, puts social sharing and messaging much more prominently in the app, but that’s no guarantee that people will actually use those features more or even see Skype as a natural place to do that kind of sharing. I only ever use Skype for work phone calls at this point, and others I’ve spoken to who use its messaging features use those almost exclusively for work communication too, so I’d be very curious to hear more from Microsoft about who is using messaging on Skype and what they’re using it for. My guess is that, for all the changes Microsoft is making here, it won’t be that much more successful than in the past in making Skype a mainstream consumer service or app for social communication and messaging. It doesn’t have the brand or the user base to make that objective work. It’s also adding in more bots, an effort that began with a bang at Build last year but has been quiet since, but again those will only be relevant inasmuch as people are spending a lot of time in Skype already and want and expect to find those interactions with brands and companies there. In the end, I don’t see anything here that makes me think Skype is going to become a radically different animal, even if it might look quite different after these changes. And that’s emblematic of Microsoft’s broader consumer challenges: it simply doesn’t have a broad-based consumer play at this point beyond productivity.
Also today at F8, Facebook overhauled its Messenger Platform, which launched last year, and went as far as to call it Messenger Platform 2.0. That kind of separation from the version launched a year ago is smart, because the first round was ill thought out, with the vision for bots both too expansive and not nearly detailed enough. In the year since, Facebook has made a lot of progress, and the version of bots it now offers to developers is much more compelling and better suited to the kinds of things it will be used for. Facebook is also getting better at serving small and medium sized businesses, which continue to make up an enormous chunk of the total base of businesses in many markets. That’s important because these businesses represent the biggest future opportunity for Facebook advertising, which is already well penetrated among larger enterprises. I’m still skeptical that bots have broad appeal beyond a few specific categories, but it’s starting to look like Facebook has cracked at least some of what it will take for bots to be successful in those categories where they do make sense. And it’s less religious about bots as full-fledged experiences now, too, which means that other flavors of automated, semi-automated, and human-driven interactions can live side by side more seamlessly, which is smart.