Facebook Beta Launches Work Chat Application

Late last week, Facebook quietly made its entry into the work chat (enterprise real-time messaging) arena with the very limited release of its appropriately-named Work Chat application. There was no announcement in the Facebook Newsroom; the app just showed up in the Google Play store and was called out in a TechCrunch article. Work Chat is available for Android devices only now; an iOS version is in development and expected to be available soon.
Work Chat is the corporate equivalent of Facebook Messenger. Those applications appear to have the same user experience and feature set, although TechCrunch noted that Work Chat allows individuals to temporarily turn off their notifications, so as to not be disturbed when on vacation and when other personal activities are prioritized.
Work Chat is intended solely for organizations that are Facebook at Work customers. Anyone can download and install the app, but it will not work without a Facebook at Work login.
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Facebook at Work is still in closed beta, so very few companies and individuals will be able to use Work Chat today.

Is This a Market Disruptor?

While it’s impossible to gauge the actual market impact of Facebook’s Work Chat at this point, we can draw some conclusions about its potential effect. First, it will boost awareness of, and interest in, chat-based, real-time communication tools in organizations of all size. Individuals who use Facebook and its Messenger app in the personal lives will push their IT departments to consider the Facebook at Work and Work Chat combination.
In all likelihood, many organizations will try Work Chat, at least in a pilot implementation. It’s been reported that Facebook at Work will be available in a free version that will likely have a limited feature set and support. If that is true and the same applies to Work Chat, then a company’s cost to try the app is negligible.
Facebook’s land and expand strategy for enterprise sales may indeed work and, if it does, Work Chat would likely be swept along with the tide of Facebook at Work adoption. Facebook has already said that some of the roughly 300 companies in the Facebook at Work trial program have announced their intent to scale its use next year. Heineken has already grown its user base from 40 to 550. Royal Bank of Scotland plans to have 30,000 employees on the platform by the end of Q1 2016 and aims to roll it out to all 100,000 employees before the end of the year.
It is entirely possible that Work Chat will see those kind of adoption numbers as well, resulting in a decent share of the enterprise real-time chat market segment for Facebook. Other vendors of communication and collaboration platforms, suites, and applications should not dismiss the potential impact that Facebook at Work and Work Chat could have on their revenue streams. If Facebook can build an enterprise sales capacity and execute well, they will become a formidable competitor.

Snapchat plans advertiser-supported ‘sponsored lenses’

Snapchat has found a new way to monetize its service — and this time it’s not undermining the reason it’s become such a popular social tool in the process.
The Financial Times reports that Snapchat wants advertisers to pay for “sponsored lenses” that change the way its users’ selfies look. Citing the ever-popular “people familiar with the matter,” the report says the feature should debut on Halloween, which seems like a good time to launch a tool devoted to making things look weird.
Sponsored lenses are said to cost $750,000 during important dates like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. They’ll cost $450,000 during other days — an option which could make it attractive to companies looking to promote new films, albums, or other content that is tied to a specific date but doesn’t coincide with any holiday.
Advertisers who want to reach Snapchat’s valuable millennial user base have other options, too. They can pay to create special “geofilters” that allow people to modify their photos with stickers unique to specific locations. They can also pay to show ads in the app’s Discover section, with Snapchat taking varying portions of the revenues.
All those ads live alongside other, non-sponsored features inside Snapchat’s app. People can use lenses to change their selfies even if an advertiser didn’t pay for it, modify their photos with geofilters from places unaffiliated with any business, or watch a couple dozen videos through Discover without encountering a single ad.
These sponsored lenses would follow another new revenue scheme: Asking people to pay for the ability to re-watch the ostensibly-ephemeral content sent to them. The feature is available for free, but consumers are asked to pay 99 cents to receive three more of the “Replays,” as they’re called. A used-to-be free feature went freemium.
That change is worrisome. As I wrote when Snapchat changed the feature:

Snapchat has now popularized and, indeed, monetized, a concept that runs counter to the notions that made it popular in the first place.

Today it’s paying a little less than a buck to re-watch some videos or take another peek at a photo. What might it be later? A few dollars to view a snap more than twice? Doing away with the restriction when teens don’t pay for Replays? Perhaps that won’t happen, but it seems more likely than it did yesterday.

Features like these new sponsored lenses are a little less hostile to Snapchat’s original vision. Besides looking like a goofball for a few seconds — double if someone uses one of their precious Replays to view the snap again — they’re harmless. They’re also fun, and they fit with Snapchat’s monetization strategy to date.

Slack Posts New Functionality

Slack is widely acknowledged as the enterprise real-time messaging (work chat) tool with the most traction, having passed the million daily user mark in June. It seems that the company is not content to stay boxed into the work chat category, however. Yesterday, Slack announced and released Posts 2.0, a feature that enables the rich authoring of blog posts and publishing them to targeted collections of people.
Since its launch, Slack has had this feature, called Posts, that lets people write content that far exceeds the length of a normal chat message. However, it was so clunky that few people used it, if they were aware of it at all. To create a Post, one was sent out of the Slack application to a web browser, where text was written using a very simple editor and then saved back to Slack as an entry in the conversation stream of a specific channel or group.
The new Posts 2.0 includes an inline text editor, which improves the experience in two ways. First, it keeps users inside the Slack app. Second, it lets them create rich text with formatting styles like headlines, bulleted lists and checkboxes. Beyond that, the new editor also acts on embedded URLs by automatically displaying graphics, showing previews of websites and expanding tweets.
Once written, Posts can still be shared with specific individuals, channels and groups, whose members can comment directly on the entry (as opposed to creating an chronologically-ordered entry in the Slack conversation stream). This is one of two places in Slack where properly threaded discussions are possible; Files is the other.
There is another important new feature in Posts 2.0 – the ability to save and access Posts in the Files section of the Slack application. So rather than having to scroll through or search the Slack conversation stream to view a specific Post again, it can be easily found in the Files repository. Additionally, if an author stars a Post in the editor or a reader does so in the conversation stream, it will show up in Slack’s Starred Items list. 

Cool, But Do Businesses Need This? 

With Posts 2.0, Slack has complemented existing features with new ones that, in combination, begin to move the application beyond being primarily a work chat tool. Slack has now effectively become a lightweight Web Content Management System that enables blogging (to a targeted audience), file storage and sharing and threaded discussion (around Posts and documents stored in Files only). It’s a lightweight people directory with profiles too. Oh, and it’s still a communication and collaboration tool.
This expansion of mission is fine, but it immediately raises the question that I previously asked and continue to pose about Slack. Why? Do work teams really need an alternative to existing corporate communication and information management applications that already satisfy the same use cases that Slack is addressing? How is Slack better than the status update, IM, blogging, file sharing, and discussion tools for communities (groups) that are bundled in the enterprise social software applications and platforms that organizations have already licensed and deployed?
In addition to the functional redundancy, one also wonders if Slack will ultimately lose its audience by becoming the opposite of what it was originally. The application’s strong initial appeal was the simplicity of its user experience. By adding more communication and collaboration features, Slack risks becoming a complex mess of functionality that few will care to use, especially on mobile devices.
On the other hand, Slack may intentionally de-emphasize its application in the future, positioning and going to market as a platform on which developers can create their own apps. We’ll see. Many already refer to Slack as a messaging-centric platform. Time will tell if that is indeed their market strategy for the long-haul, but, for now, Slack is beginning to look like yet another bloated application.

The Internet of Things and Networks of Everything

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been a hot topic for several months now, and there are new stories about it in the business and technology press on a daily basis. While it’s easy to view these as hype at worst and vision at best, there is no denying that purveyors of hardware, software and services are dedicating and creating the resources they will use to capitalize on the IoT. Last week alone, there were three announcements that show just how quickly the IoT market is progressing and how big of a business opportunity it is.
On Monday, September 14th, IBM formally launched a distinct IoT business unit and named former Thomas Cook Group CEO Harriet Green as its leader. The new IoT unit is the first significant step by IBM toward delivering on the $3 billion commitment it made to IoT in March. IBM signaled in Monday’s press release that the unit will “soon” number about 2,000 consultants, researchers and developers, who will use IBM’s assets to help customers get up and running on the IoT. Those assets will likely include the Bluemix platform-as-a-service (PaaS), Watson and other analytics software, as well as the MQTT messaging protocol standard for machine-to-machine communication that IBM submitted to OASIS in 2013.
The next day, Salesforce.com used its annual Dreamforce conference as the grand stage on which to unveil its IoT Cloud. This offering has at its core a new “massively scalable”, real-time event processing engine named ‘Thunder’ (to complement Salesforce’s ‘Lightening’ UI framework). IoT Cloud connects IoT resources and Thunder rules-based workflow to route data between them, triggering pre-defined actions. For example, when an individual enters a retail store, a beacon can offer them discounts based on qualification criterion such as loyalty program status and in-store inventory levels. Scenarios such as this will be possible because of IoT Cloud’s integration with the Salesforce Sales, Marketing and Analytics Clouds. IoT Cloud is currently in pilot and is expected to be generally available sometime in the second half of 2016.
While these two announcements are important milestones in the respective organizations ability to help customers connect to and use the IoT, they do not enable them to do so immediately and risk being labeled as more IoT hype. The sheer magnitude of resources assembled for each of these vendors initiatives signals that they believe that the IoT will be both real and profitable in the not-so-distant future.
The final piece of related news from last week underscores that smaller, pure-play vendors are delivering tools that help their customers get on the IoT now. Build.io announced that Flow, its integration PaaS that had been beta released in March, is now generally available. Flow features a drag-and-drop interface that is used to connect IoT elements ─ sensors and other intelligent devices, backend systems, mobile applications and other software ─ into an integrated system. Connections are made at the API level. Like Salesforce’s Thunder, Flow uses rules-based event processing to trigger actions from IoT data. In essence, Build.io is delivering today a critical part of what Salesforce intends to make generally available later this year.

Current State of the Internet of Things and Networks of Everything

These announcements, taken together, mean that the IoT is poised for takeoff. The first sets of user-friendly tools that organizations need to connect IoT nodes, transmit their data and use it to drive business processes are available now, in some cases, or will be coming to market within a year. We are on the cusp of a rapid acceleration in the growth of the market for software underpinning the IoT, as well as the network itself.
This latest batch of IoT announcements from software vendors underscores another thing: the IoT will initially be built separately from enterprise social networks (ESNs). Many organizations, particularly large enterprises, have experimented with ESNs and a few have managed to build ones that are operating at scale and creating value. Those businesses will be turning their attention to IoT development now, if they haven’t already. They will pilot, then scale, their efforts there, just as they did with ESNs.
Eventually, organizations will realize that it is more efficient and effective to build Networks of Everything (NoE), in which humans and machines communicate and collaborate with one another using not only the Internet, but also cellular, Bluetooth, NFC, RFID and other types of networks. This construct is just beginning to enter reality, and it will take a few years before NoE get the market attention that ESNs did five years ago and the IoT is now.
At some future point, when NoE have become a fixture of networked business, we will look back at this month (Sept. 2015) and declare that it was a watershed moment in the development of the IoT. We’ll also laugh at how obvious it seems, in hindsight, that we should have just built NoE in the first place.

LinkedIn puts Slack in its crosshairs with updated messaging platform

 
LinkedIn is either suffering a mid-life crisis or experiencing a renaissance.
The company has traditionally focused on helping workers further their careers by transforming all of their acquaintances into potential “connections” that can endorse any of their skills or simply become another notch in their digital belts. It has also tried to become a content hub for these same professionals by acquiring the Pulse news startup and working on content marketing tools.
Now an update to the company’s messaging system, which previously looked like an email client from the ’90s, makes LinkedIn seem more like a place where people can have meaningful conversations instead of meaningless connections. The update is pretty standard stuff. In addition to sporting a new chat-like interface, the new messages can also support animated GIFs and stickers. LinkedIn, much like its middle-aged user base, is catching up to the times.
It’s also responding to the popularity of Slack and similar tools which allow workers to communicate with their colleagues — and, in the process, it’s shifting from a glorified contacts list to a bona fide social communications service.
wonton_post_desktop-product
Today’s update to LinkedIn’s messages isn’t the only change of its sort the company has made recently. It also released a new application called LinkedIn Lookup last month to make it easier for people to find information about or contact their co-workers. In a blog post announcing the new app, LinkedIn said that it was created after 46 percent of respondents to an 814-person survey said they use the service to learn more about their colleagues. So it made an app to make that even easier, and now it’s updated its messaging service to help people communicate better.
It seems like the company is starting to shift its focus, if only a little bit. Instead of forming links people can use to reach new heights in their careers, LinkedIn is encouraging people to actually — get this — talk to the people in their circles.
This is similar to the change happening at Twitter, which recently updated its direct messaging feature and gave celebrities a sneak preview of new photo-and video-editing tools. Both updates appear to be meant to help Twitter combat the growth of one-to-one communication services like Snapchat or WhatsApp.
Now it’s LinkedIn’s turn to make some changes. Like Twitter, it used to focus mostly on external communications, whether it was sharing blog posts to a group of professionals or leveraging connections to find out about new jobs. These changes signal a renewed focus on internal communications. (Albeit with a more professional bent than Twitter’s focus on millennials and celebrities. Also more useful, too, apparently.)
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It makes sense for LinkedIn to make these changes. Slack has proved that there’s a demand for business-focused social networks that don’t bore their users with monotone interfaces or pre-smartphone ideas about communication. Hell, even Facebook is trying to edge Slack out of the business market, and it’s not even focused on that area. It’s no surprise LinkedIn would try the same.
From corporate ladder-climber to virtual water cooler. It looks like even the stodgiest of social networks will eventually feel compelled to take on messaging services. Now we’ll have to see if the move is brilliant or just a gamble everyone will soon ignore.

Research Agenda of Larry Hawes, Lead Analyst

Greetings! As my colleague Stowe Boyd announced yesterday, I am part of a fabulous group of smart, well-respected people that have joined the rebooted Gigaom Research as analysts. I was affiliated with the original version of Gigaom Research as an Analyst, and am very pleased to be taking the more involved role of Lead Analyst in the firm’s new incarnation, as detailed in Stowe’s post.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve spent the last 16 years working as a management and technology consultant, enterprise software industry analyst, writer, speaker and educator. My work during that time has been focused on the nexus of communication, collaboration, content management and process/activity management within and between organizations ─ what I currently call ‘networked business’.
I intend to continue that broad line of inquiry as a Lead Analyst at Gigaom Research. The opportunity to work across technologies and management concepts ─ and the ability to simultaneously address and interrelate both ─ is precisely what makes working with Gigaom Research so attractive to me. The firm is fairly unique in that aspect, in comparison to traditional analyst organizations that pigeonhole employees into discrete technology or business strategy buckets. I hope that our customers will recognize that and benefit from the holistic viewpoint that our analysts provide.
With the above in mind, I present my research agenda for the coming months (and, probably, years). I’m starting at the highest conceptual level and working toward more specific elements in this list.

Evolution of Work

Some analysts at Gigaom Research are calling this ‘work futures’. I like that term, but prefer the ‘evolution of work’, as that allows me to bring the past and, most importantly, the current state of work into the discussion. There is much to be learned from history and we need to address what is happening now, not just what may be coming down the road. Anyway, this research stream encompasses much of what I and Gigaom Research are focused on in our examination of how emerging technologies may change how we define, plan and do business.

Networked Business

This is a topic on which I’ve been writing and speaking since 2012. I’ve defined ‘networked business’ as a state in which an interconnected system of organizations and their value-producing assets are working toward one or more common objectives. Networked business is inherently driven by connection, communication and collaboration, hence my interest in the topic.
While the concept of networked business is not new, it has been gaining currency in the past few years as a different way of looking at how we structure organizations and conduct their activities. As I noted in the first paragraph of this post, there are many technologies and business philosophies and practices that support networked business, and I will do my best to include as many as possible in my research and discussions.

Networks of Everything

This research stream combines two memes that are currently emerging and garnering attention: the Internet of Things and the rise of robots and other intelligent technologies in the workplace. In my vision, networks of everything are where humans, bots, virtual assistants, sensors and other ‘things’ connect, communicate and collaborate to get work done. The Internet, Web, cellular and other types of networks may be used in isolation or, more likely, in combination to create networks of everything.
I’ve had a book chapter published on this topic earlier this year, and I’m looking forward to thinking and writing more about it in the near future.

Microservices

How do we build applications that can support business in a heavily networked environment? While the idea of assembling multiple technology components into a composite application are not new (object-oriented programing and Service Oriented Architecture have been with us for decades), the idea continues to gain acceptance and become more granular in practice.
I intend to chronicle this movement toward microservices and discuss how the atomization of component technology is likely to play out next. As always, my focus will be on collaboration, content management and business process management.

Adaptive Case Management and Digital Experience Management

These two specific, complementary technologies have also been gathering more attention and support over the last two years and are just beginning to hit their stride now. I see the combination of these technologies as an ideal enabler of networked business and early exemplars of component architecture at the application level, not the microservice one (yet).
I’ve written about ACM more, but am eager to expand on the early ideas I’ve had about it working together with DEM to support networked business.

Work Chat

Simply put, I would be remiss to not investigate and write about the role of real-time messaging technology in business. I’ve already called work chat a fad that will go away in time, but it needs to be addressed in depth for Gigaom Research customers, because there are valid use cases and it will enjoy limited success. I will look at the viability of work chat as an extensible computing platform, not just as a stand-alone technology. Fitting with my interest in microservices, I will also consider the role that work chat can play as a service embedded in other applications.
Phew! I’m tired just thinking about this, much less actually executing against it. It’s a full plate, a loaded platter really. The scariest thing is that this list is likely incomplete and that there are other things that I will want to investigate and discuss. However, I think it represents my research and publishing interests pretty  well.
My question is, how does this align with your interests? Are there topics or technologies that you would like to see me include in this framework? If so, please let me know in a comment below. Like all research agendas, mine is subject to change over time, so your input is welcomed and valued.

The Return of Middle Managers

“That experiment broke. I just had to admit it.” — Ryan Carson, CEO of Treehouse Island, on his attempt to run the company without managers

There is currently a widely-held view among organizational design experts and pundits that managers, particularly middle managers, are a harmful artifact of hierarchically-structured, command-and-control organizations. Conventional wisdom holds that middle managers, and their responsibilities and stereotypical behaviors, are outdated and severely constrict the speed at which a business can operate. Flat, democratic organizations made up of loose, recombinant relationships have gained favor in the org design world today because they enable agility and efficiency.
There’s just one problem with that view – it’s not entirely accurate. It represent an ideal that may be right for some organizations, but very wrong for many others.
Carson and Treehouse Island’s failed experiment was one of the examples given in a recent Wall Street Journal article (behind paywall) titled “Radical Idea at the Office: Middle Managers”. The common thread between the companies mentioned in the article was that the elimination of bosses had the opposite effect of what had been envisioned. Productivity decreased because workers weren’t sure of their responsibilities and couldn’t forge consensus-based decisions needed to move forward. Innovation also waned, because new ideas went nowhere without a management-level individual to champion and fund them. Employee morale even took a hit, because no one took over the former middle management’s role of providing encouragement and motivation when they were needed.
Research of over 100 organizations conducted by an INSEAD professor led to this conclusion, cited in the WSJ piece:

“Employees want people of authority to reassure them, to give them direction. It’s human nature.”

Enabling Technologies that Don’t

Another problem experienced by many of the organizations mentioned in the WSJ article was that technologies meant to enable employees to work productively in a manager-less workplace failed to do so. Enterprise chat systems were specifically fingered as a culprit, for a variety of reasons.
At Treehouse Island, which had never used email, decision-making was severely compromised by employees opining on chat threads when they had no expertise on the given subject. This led to “endless discussions”. The chat technology drove conversations, but ideas rarely made it past discussion to a more formal plan. Work tasks informally noted and assigned without accountability in the chat application mostly got lost in the shuffle and weren’t completed. Treehouse Island eventually turned to other communications channels and even acknowledged that email has valid uses.

Worker Education and Training, Not Managers, Are the Problem

While I agree with the assessment that human nature is a barrier to effective manager-less workplaces, I also think that our base impulses can be minimized or completely overcome by alternative, learned attitudes and behaviors. Society and institutions in the United States have programmed multiple generations to submit to authority, seeking and accepting its orders and guidance. Our educational system has largely been designed to to produce ‘loyal and reliable’ workers who can thrive in a narrowly-defined role under the direction of a superior. Putting individuals who have been educated this way into situations where they must think for themselves and work with others to get things done is like throwing a fish out of water.
As for enterprise chat technology, it has seen documented success when deployed and used to help small teams coordinate their work. However, most of those teams working in chat channels either have a single, designated manager with the authority to make things happen, or they are able call upon a small number of individuals who can and will assume unofficial, situational leadership roles when needed. Absent people to act with authority, chat-enabled groups become mired in inaction, as document in the WSJ article. As I put it in my recent Gigaom Research post on enterprise real-time messaging,

The real reason that employees and their organizations continue to communicate poorly is human behavior. People generally don’t communicate unless they have something to gain by doing so. Power, influence, prestige, monetary value, etc. Well-designed technology can make it easier and more pleasant for people to communicate, but it does very little to influence, much less actually change, their behaviors.”

We will see more experiments with Holocracy and other forms of organization that eliminate layers of management and depend on individuals to be responsible for planning, coordinating and conducting their own work activities. Some will succeed; most will fail. We can (and should!) create and implement new technologies that, at least in theory, support the democratization of work. However, until systemic changes are made in the way people are educated and trained to function in society and at work, companies without managers will remain a vision, not a common reality.

Google Hangouts Completely Shakes Its Google+ Roots

In the newest migration for Google Hangouts away from its start as a feature of Google+, the messaging service now has its own website at hangouts.google.com, losing its second class status as an add-on to Google+ or Gmail.
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This is, by the way, almost identical to the Common Hangouts chrome plugin I’ve used occasionally, although the Google version supports popping out the individual chats, which means they notify you of new activity even if the window is closed.
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Jordanna Chord of Google made the announcement on Google+, which did not claim that any new features were being offered. Google announced an updated client for Android a week ago, after releasing a new version for iOS a month earlier. I like the ability to make calls over wifi, and video calls.
iPhone Screenshot 5
Farrha Khan thinks that this step is part of a Google competition with Facebook Messenger, but they are really competing with the entire mobile messaging world, and this just makes it easier for non-Google+ and non-Gmail users to access Hangouts in the browser, although they still need a Google ID.

Real-time Messaging in the Enterprise: Here We Go Again

There was a good Wired article, published yesterday, that bemoaned the rapidly-growing plethora of communication applications centered around real-time chat. Its author lists consumer-oriented applications to demonstrate the situation:

“I bounce through a folder full of messaging apps. I talk to a few people on Hangouts, a few others on Facebook Messenger, exactly one person on WhatsApp. I Snapchat all those people, too. I use Twitter DMs, GroupMe, HipChat, Skype, even Instagram Direct a couple of times. Livetext, Yahoo’s new app, is fun; I’ve been using that. Oh, and there’s email. And iMessage. And, of course, good ol’ green-bubble text messaging.”

The same problem is beginning to develop within businesses as their employees self-adopt enterprise-first chat tools from startup vendors that have been in-market for a while, including Slack, Hipchat, Wrike, Flowdock and others. Oh, and let’s not forget that many employees use the consumer-grade applications mentioned in the Wired article to conduct business, even if it’s against company policy.
Of course, all of these newer chat tools compete with IT-approved enterprise real-time messaging offerings for employees’ attention and love. IBM Sametime, Microsoft’s Lync and Yammer, and Salesforce Chatter are just a few well-known examples of longer-lived, enterprise-grade messaging applications and services that support real-time exchanges. To further compound the clutter, we are also seeing new chat offerings, from established enterprise collaboration software vendors, that mimic their consumer-oriented cousins. Jive Chime and Microsoft Send are real-time chat apps that have been released in the last four months to support organizations’ increasingly mobile workforces.
There are a few problems created by this overwhelming collection of enterprise real-time messaging options. First, these applications are largely siloed from each other, so employees have to remember in which one a certain conversation occurred or know in which application they have the highest probability of gaining a specific coworker’s attention. Second, some can interoperate with other enterprise applications via RESTful APIs, while others require more costly, time-consuming integration efforts. Third, some messaging applications support information governance initiatives such as records retention and disposal whereas other offerings essentially assume that chats are throw-away conversations that do not need to be archived and managed.
There are so many other issues that they will be better dealt with in another post. But they are bound by one clear fact: we’ve made all of these mistakes with previous generations of enterprise messaging technology.

The BIG Problem: Why?

The biggest problem facing the newest wave of enterprise chat tools is an existential one. It is not clear why they are needed when existing real-time messaging tools satisfy the same use cases. I voiced this in the following mini-tweetstorm on the day that Microsoft Send was announced. (read from the bottom of the graphic to the top)
Larry's Enterprise Chat Tweetstorm
That’s right. You can hold my feet to the fire on that prediction. Enterprise real-time chat is destined to quickly fail as a market segment and technology with significant, positive business impact. Just like the combination of status update and activity stream features in enterprise social software failed to displace email, instant messaging and other, well-established forms of business communication.
Insufficient technology is not the cause of poor communication within organizations. We have had at our disposal more-than-adequate messaging technologies for decades now. The real reason that employees and their organizations continue to communicate poorly is human behavior. People generally don’t communicate unless they have something to gain by doing so. Power, influence, prestige, monetary value, etc.
Well-designed technology can make it easier and more pleasant for people to communicate, but it does very little to influence, much less actually change, their behaviors. So the latest enterprise real-time chat applications may offer improvements in user experience, but they won’t measurably increase communication frequency or effectiveness in most organizations unless their deployment is accompanied by change management efforts that include meaningful incentives to communicate.
I intend to track and chronicle the rise and fall of enterprise real-time chat as part of my research agenda at Gigaom Research. Stay tuned over the coming months as we watch this drama unfold.
 
 

Wiper thinks messaging apps could be the key to bitcoin payments

Wiper, an ephemeral messaging app that launched in 2014, has a reputation as a Snapchat clone, but it’s actually closer to Line, which uses over-the-top messaging as a platform to sell stickers, games, and other entertainment and services. Taking a kitchen-sink approach to messaging apps, Wiper doesn’t just provide messages you can delete with a push of a button, but also includes free calling, YouTube music playlists, and now, payments powered by the bitcoin protocol.

Payments and messaging are a natural fit. In China, you can add a bank account to a WeChat account. More recently, in the United States, Snapchat introduced Snapcash with Square. But Wiper is eschewing partnerships with financial companies and using the bitcoin protocol instead for transferring money from person to person.

Wiper is positioning this feature as a way for people from other countries to send money home. Those payments are called remittances. From Wiper’s blog post:

This promises huge savings for immigrants sending money home and access to tools for the 2.5 billion adults who do not have bank accounts. It will also allow for microtransactions that were previously cost prohibitive, like tipping for media you like.

“If bitcoin is complicated for people who are tech-savvy and used to smartphones, imagine what it’s like for the first-time smartphone buyer,” Wiper CEO Manlio Carrelli said. “But the first-time smartphone buyer is used to the messaging interface.”

Wiper’s bitcoin implementation is fairly elegant. At the bottom of the app, there’s a tab for Bitcoin transactions. Instead of using a person’s inscrutable bitcoin address wallet, you can send bitcoins or fractions of bitcoins to Wiper usernames as part of a chat or through a separate transaction. Wiper lets you send Bitcoin to any wallet ID, even those without an associated Wiper account.

There are a few nice features included, like the fact that Wiper uses a different wallet ID for each transaction, but all wallets are still synced to your Wiper username. On iOS, Wiper uses Touch ID to validate payments. There is also the option to denominate all bitcoin amounts in local currency.

Screenshots-Wiper

There’s just one problem, though. If you don’t already have bitcoins, there’s no way to buy them from Wiper. To upload bitcoins into my Wiper account, I had to transfer them from my Coinbase wallet. On the other end, someone in a country like the Philippines or India might not have an easy way to turn bitcoins from Wiper back into money she can use.

“When you send money to Mom back home, you need to find a place that takes Bitcoin or offload it into local currency,” Carrelli said. “That’s what we’re going to work on next.”

There’s also the issue that bitcoin transactions — even sending the equivalent of $1 to a friend — are permanently and publicly recorded on the blockchain, which seems to be at odds with Wiper’s flagship feature, which is that it can delete all your messages with the push of a button. Your texts might be gone, but your bitcoin transactions will be accessible forever. However, Wiper will delete your transaction history from the app, and since it uses a different wallet ID for each transaction, the hope is that it would be “exceptionally hard to reverse engineer how much bitcoin you have.”

Anybody who’s seriously concerned with security wouldn’t be using Wiper anyway. As of now, you have to take the company’s word that its closed-source communication software is properly encrypted and messages are actually deleted when they’re wiped. Carrelli says that Wiper will release a “whitepaper” from a third-party auditor in the next year.

Still, the concept is simple and alluring. If you’re already using an app to call and message your family back home, why not add an easy way to send them money as well? In this case, despite its downsides, the bitcoin protocol has the advantage of potentially being cheaper than Western Union and similar services, as well as cutting through local regulations.

Wiper wouldn’t share user statistics with me, but it noted that its downloads on Google Play are in the 1-to-5-million range. Carrelli says the app has roughly equal numbers of iOS and Android users, and he also mentioned that Wiper is particularly successful in a few overseas markets like Thailand and Brazil. (According to App Annie, Wiper is the 77th most downloaded app in Thailand, although it climbed to the top spot at one point in December, and it’s currently the 140th most downloaded app in Brazil.)

Wiper has a 12-person team at the moment, based in New York, and it’s been funded by Michael Choupak, the former Intermedia CEO, who has contributed $2.5 million in seed funding.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MM5yX33mewI&feature=youtu.be