The state of messaging

I got a laugh at the dinner table the other day when I proclaimed that in order to send you a WhatsApp message I have to also be on WhatsApp.

It’s funny because it’s obvious. But the worst part is that it’s normal. Nobody at the table considered it a problem, if they had even considered it all.

I defended my truism by pointing out that this is not the case with email, or SMS. Both considered archaic at this point, and yet both are open, interoperable messaging platforms that appeared in my lifetime. Even the pervasiveness of Gmail hasn’t blackmailed me onto their platform. I’m free to choose any email vendor I like, without sacrificing my contact with other humans. Likewise, my phone is with O2 but my wife is on EE (or whatever, I don’t even need to know).

It’s taken less than a decade to brainwash ourselves into this new normal. WhatsApp appeared in 2009. What began as “Cool! free texting” is now “Use our product, or never hear from your friends again“.

The problem with closed networks is that everyone who wants to communicate has to belong to the same one.  But we solved that problem – it’s called the Internet. Until we discover intelligent life on another planet, we have the widest network we need.

Given that we’re getting close to Facebook’s “MySpace” moment, I think this is a good time to consider what they (and others) have done to messaging. The closed nature of social networks has been more-or-less in the public consciousness for some years, but it feels like messaging platforms are yet to come under the same scrutiny.

We need open, interoperable, group messaging for the modern age and we need it now.


One thing I didn’t know about when writing this post is RCS (developed by the GSM Association) as a replacement for SMS. Google are on board and are using the standard to develop their Jibe platform for messaging on Android.

If this is able to compete with the feature set and experience of using Whatsapp et al, then hopefully it will put an end to proprietary messaging silos. However, we all remember MMS and people aren’t just going to jump on it because it’s open – it has to be awesome.

It’s a good sign that Google are invested, but I’m not filled with confidence that open initiatives can compete with the likes of Facebook and Snap when it comes to the development of planet-dominating, dopamine-releasing apps. I watch with interest.