The State of Mobile Messaging

As our everyday lives become more ingrained with our social networks and smartphones becoming the norm it’s easy to see why the mobile communications space is getting white hot.

970362_88444021

Last spring SXSW was abuzz with a new breed of apps that were a hybrid of IM and texting that focused on enabling small groups of people to communicate more efficiently. The most talked about apps, GroupMe, Beluga, and Fast Society represented a fresh take on the entire idea mobile communication. The apps combined IM, texting, photos, checkins, conference calls, and map views into a holistic and incredibly useful tool.

2011-08-13_1414They broke new ground but it was only a matter of time before the major players arrived. A few short months have passed and we are beginning to see how the big 3 are approaching mobile communication. Things are about to get interesting.

The Big 3

Facebook

Facebook just this week released Facebook Messenger. It’s positioned as a mobile messaging app with group communication and multiple notification methods at its core. It’s an essential piece of Facebook’s unified messaging goal of combining texting, email, and FB messaging all through the Facebook platform. It’s an obvious outgrowth of Facebook’s purchase of Beluga and while it isn’t as nice as Beluga I like the app because I can use Facebook messaging without opening the Facebook app. It will be interesting to see how this app is adopted. Are we ready to hand more communication over to Facebook?

Google

Google is also jumping head first into the mobile messaging with Google+ Huddle.

 

Huddle isn’t terribly impressive on it’s own. It is simply group messaging and lacks support for SMS, locations, and photos. However, as Google integrates Google Voice, Latitude, and Google Photos deeper into Google+ I expect that to change.

Microsoft

It might seem like an odd to include them in a mobile messaging discussion but I’m convinced they are the 800lb gorilla in the room. Why? They bought Skype in May. Consider:

  • Skype’s user base is massive
  • They are the default IM and video conferencing tool in my world.
  • They’ve long had group communication in their software
  • They already have mobile apps

It would take very little effort from this collaboration to make a large impact in the mobile group messaging arena.

Ahem – Skype (Microsoft just announced it’s buying GroupMe. While I didn’t predict the acquisition it is the smart move and totally fits with this larger theory

The Little 1

Finally I’ve got to give some little guy love to GroupMe.

GroupMe is still a serious contender in group messaging (and at the moment my app of choice). They offer more features than anyone else and it works with people that don’t even have the app. Texting, conference calls, mapping, foursquare – they integrated everything in a very easy to use app. They recently released GroupMe 3.0 and added questions, web chat, and direct messages. They are certainly and underdog compared to the big 3 but their technology is still in the lead… for now.

Communication Conundrum

This is a fascinating battleground that is focused not on how we communicate but where we communicate. Email and texting doesn’t care about where. They work across all platforms and providers (PC, Mac, mobile, Verizon, AT&T, Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo) because they are standards based communication.

This new wave of apps and networks are proprietary technology and could indicate we are headed for the platform wars that have plagued computers for decades. (Think: I’m a Facebook vs I’m a Google) However, unlike the platform debate communication isn’t an individual decision. A critical mass of your social graph has to be present for these tools to even be a consideration.

I have more questions than answers:

  • Will we see the adoption of standards like XMPP for mobile group messaging?
  • Are tools like Huddle and GroupMe destined to be fringe apps or utility networks that everyone uses?

Most importantly can we quickly find what we are all going to use? I’d like to delete some apps from my iPhone.

Your thoughts?

Leave a comment below or Facebook me, Google+ me, skype me… forget it, just send me a telegraph.

Feature Famine

As I spend more time with Google+ and play with Facebook video chat I’m left with a single question –

What happened to innovation at Twitter?

874766_30600455

The past year of social innovation.

Since July 2010,

Facebook has introduced:

  • New Facebook Groups which are probably the best group technology the web has produced.
  • Facebook Places
  • Facebook Deals
  • Facebook Questions
  • Facebook Messaging and now Video chat

Google built an entire social network with revolutionary features like hangouts and circles.

Twitter meanwhile updated its interface.

  • The #NewTwitter Web interface was introduced and over complicated everything
  • They bought an iPhone app called Tweetie and made it worse.
  • They bought Tweetdeck because they couldn’t improve upon it. (Watch for the Twitter branded version to reduce its functionality)
  • A few search improvements, hit the lotto with Apple, and built a Mac client.
  • [Update: I neglected to mention suggesting people to follow and email notifications. I forgot about them because they are precisely forgettable]

An underwhelming list of achievements.

Simple but Functional

Twitter should be simple.

However, the lack of basic features to address spam/noise, organize people, and create a searchable archive are beginning to really bug me and from the looks of my timeline I’m not the only one.

A laundry list of much needed improvements are being left untouched while Twitter  focuses selling promoted tweets and become the greatest celebrity stalker service ever.

May I suggest:

  • Improve Twitter Lists – Google just changed the game with circles almost 2 years after introducing lists they are still too limited and buried within your apps and web interface.
  • Filter Tweets by Source – Add Tweetdeck’s killer feature to remove the “Tweet old Post” and Paper.li noise.
  • Reduce Trend Spam – Trending topics are home to a copious amount of spam and malicious links. If you’re going to continue to push Trends you must fix this.
  • Treat Twitter Search’s short term memory loss. If it happened more than 3 days ago you must turn to @Topsy or your Friendfeed archive to find it.

Twitter you’re amazing but stop resting on your success.

Your Turn

What would you add to the list above? Am I too critical?

The Problem of a Relevant Web

You can’t see it, yet it affects everyone on the web. Doing it well is the holy grail for sites like Google and Facebook but the better they get the less informed we may become. What is it? The Relevant Web.

horse_blinders

The rise of the Relevance Engine

We are suffering from a digital deluge. Hundreds of daily links, news, blogs, status updates, and photos have overwhelmed our ability to consume content. We are unconsciously seeking a system that assists in cutting through the clutter and we may get more than we bargained for.

Here is how it works:

  1. Search/Social site collects data on you, your usage, and your social connections
  2. Site uses that data to predict what you would find interesting or relevant
  3. You click a search result or comment on a Facebook status and think how useful the internet is
  4. More clicks, more pages, more time = More $$

Simple examples

  • Ever notice how once you defined your family or spouse in Facebook how their posts always seem to appear near the top of your feed? Not accidental.
  • Gmail and Facebook ads are uncannily similar to your recent activity.

Isn’t this a good thing?

Yes, temporarily but we may regret it in the long-term.

Listen to this interview with Eli Pariser, author of “The Filter Bubble” from yesterday’s Diane Rehm Show.

one online pioneer believes we pay a big price for that customized experience – living in our own information universe. In our so-called “filter bubble,” we receive mainly familiar news that confirms our beliefs. And we don’t know what’s being hidden from us

To oversimplify Pariser proposes that Google, Facebook and others bring more visibility into how these algorithms work and provide the users more options to adjust the level of filtering.

The latter part of his argument is most crucial. Most of us would not understand the relevance equations but we should certainly be provided the means to tweak or disable the filtering.

If we are going to trust a company to show us only certain parts of the web shouldn’t we be informed and part of that decision?

Unfortunately few people are aware this is even happening and it will be a good deal longer before they care. Ask yourself how many of your Facebook friends are even aware they can edit the settings of their Facebook feed?

facebook_feed_options

The relevant web is the next phase of the internet and as we become more educated users companies like Google and Facebook will be forced to respond or it will open the door to competitors.

For more reading:

2 New Features of Facebook Pages You Should Take Advantage of Immediately

Facebook has released a major upgrade to Facebook Pages and there are a couple ew features that you should take advantage of right away.

Use Facebook as “page”

The importance of this feature is not to be underestimated because it finally allows you to use Facebook as your business or brand.

use_asOnce you upgrade your page you’ll notice an option on the right sidebar “Use Facebook as [YourPageName]”

The next step is to go and like other pages that are related to your business or brand. Find partners, colleagues, or sites you recommend and like them as your page.

This will give you a page stream of those pages you liked and you can comment and interact as your page. You can’t friend people or comment on individuals posts as your page but that’s the way it should be. Network, interact, and add value all as your page and the payoff in visibility is tremendous.

Highlight Admins

If you are a local business or small organization this is a great way to show the faces behind your brand. It adds legitimacy and transparency.

To enable it, go to your page dashboard, then “Featured

featured

You can choose to highlight anyone that is an admin of the page.

This feature might not be right for every organization but it’s definitely worth considering.

Takeaways

This is finally the business accounts that Facebook has long needed. It’s a smart move to enable features while creating a wall between personal and business use.

This is a significant change for Facebook and for more info on the new features check out New Facebook Pages: Everything You Need to Know by AllFacebook.com and see the official Facebook Pages Manual

Official Facebook Pages Manual

Social Media Share Bar 2.0

Last year I wrote about my search for the perfect social media share bar and I soon discovered I wasn’t the only publisher looking for a more functional and elegant solution. 11 months later and it’s still in my top 5 most popular posts. Since that time Facebook and Twitter have introduced new buttons and pretty much everything has changed so it’s time to share my new and improved share bar recommendations

Share bars is my term for the ubiquitous list of icons inviting a reader to tweet, like, or otherwise share a particular post. The options range from hundreds of WordPress plugins to more advanced hand coding and since I fall somewhere in between I think there is something for everyone here.

The Problem

Many of the most popular solutions don’t create a good user experience. If you are creating content worth sharing why not close the deal by making it easy to share.

Here’s a few examples of what’s wrong:

  • TweetMeme Retweet – This is likely the most popular RT button on the web but requires too many clicks to authorize their app just to RT. (For a much better RT button see Topsy’s solution but I’ll discuss why I’m using the Twitter tweet button below)
  • Wibiya & Meebo – Overlay bars jumped on the scene this past spring but the sharing process is often weird & distracting.
  • 99% of WordPress share plugins – They’ll get the job done but they don’t offer enough features or they create a cluttered appearance.

Yes I’m picky but I want simple, elegant, and feature rich.

The Solutions

The Easy Way

I only recommend 2 plugins for creating sharebars:

  1. AddtoAny – I love this plugin. AddtoAny offers a ton of customization options and it’s easy to create standalone services. See it in action below this post, click the share_save_171_16 button at the end of this post.
  2. Sexy Bookmarks – SB is very well designed and @Shareholic has continued to improve its functionality. They don’t offer a true Facebook “Like” button but otherwise everything you need is offered. sexybookmarks

More Advanced & Mo Betta

If you are comfortable with a bit of coding then you should take advantage of the more advanced options offered through Facebook and Twitter’s native services.

As I mentioned above I’ve been very pleased with Topsy’s RT button but I recently replaced it with Twitter’s native solutions for 1 major reason: I can suggest that you follow me after retweeting one of my links. That is a huge! (Feel free to retweet this post and see for yourself). If someone has read and tweeted your post  there is a very good chance that they will follow you as well.

My final solution for a share bar is to use a combination of Facebook Social plugins, the Twitter Tweet button, and AddtoAny.

Creating a Facebook Like Button

  1. Visit the Facebook developer Like button page.
  2. Choose your style, width, color, & face preferences. The example code below uses the box style, width of 60px, light color scheme. The options are up to you but the php url is critical.
  3. If you are using WordPress just paste the code into your single.php file, If you are using the Thesis theme [affiliate link] paste this code into your “thesis_hook_after_post” in OpenHook

[php]