Ben Brown declares that the ascendance of Slack and messaging apps presents a new paradigm that calls for “messaging experience design.”
Designing for messaging will become a discipline as important as responsive design, and will incorporate skills as diverse as copy writing, business analytics and API programming.
A few related thoughts –
Messaging:Mobile :: Web:Desktop
The web provided a platform on top of the existing desktop operating systems that had very serious constraints but key advantages in ease of use, development, distribution, and scale.
Over time it eclipsed desktop in relevance and interest for lots of things.
Rather than buying complex software, installing, and launching it we simply loaded up a browser, visited a URL and did whatever it is we needed to do.
It’s just easier and faster.
It didn’t matter that you couldn’t run Photoshop in a browser - HTML over HTTP was more than enough for plenty of interesting things. A lot more people want to read about what their friends are up to or shop or bank online than edit Photoshop layers.
Messaging (in a very broad sense including SMS, texting apps, and things like Slack) present a similar challenge and opportunity today in the context of smartphones.
There’s a constrained set of interactions and interface elements, but replying to an SMS or similar text conversation is an order of magnitude easier than installing a native mobile app. It’s also less work than firing up a mobile web browser, typing a URL, waiting, and seeing what may or may not be a decent experience.
There’s more advantages: authentication is transparent - you’re already logged in to the messaging app (or have a phone number.) No new account required. You already know how to use the interface, no hunting around and learning a new one. It’s more likely to work in a wearable context with limited screen and voice input.
This isn’t a new observation and all the major chat applications on the consumer side have embraced the idea of being a platform. I expect that we’ll see more and more intelligence and smart interfaces move up from the mobile OS apps layer to a messaging layer.
Protocols vs Platforms
SMS is probably the closest we have to a “protocol” - in that it’s universal across cellular providers, we have an agreed to routing system with phone numbers, and almost anyone can use it.
It seems like it would be the best foundation to build systems like this except that the telecom industry seems to have shot itself in the foot by trying to extract too much profit from it, forcing all the innovation to happen in the “free texting” apps. (And changes in rate plans or free unlimited SMS aren’t changing the dynamic - it’s too late.)
So instead of just developing for SMS you probably need to think about Twitter, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Line, and half a dozen others because that’s where the users are and where all the innovation happened.
Customer facing business, in the same they you developed a web strategy, then a broader social media strategy, will need a coherent messaging experience strategy across these services.
Slack As Universal Interface
An opportunity for Slack is to embrace being something of a “universal interface” for businesses and encourage as much integration with services on its platform as possible.
If integration with Slack is cheap and easy and provides additional distribution for business services, more services will be incentivized to offer it, which in turn makes Slack more valuable for its customers. And when Slack’s customers have a host of services integrated with their Slack instance, the more valuable Slack becomes to them (and the harder it is to migrate away from.)
Slack’s challenge is balancing its desire to be a great piece of enterprise software that delivers value on its own with being a stable, trustworthy, platform provider that creates a win/win for itself and partners who build on it.
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