Why we need a personal assistant to pick out the message that matter
Mobile messaging is becoming a mess. Early in February, I received a Skype message from a business contact in Japan asking if we could meet up at the Mobile World Congress. Only I didn’t actually receive it until a week later – I only use Skype when I am travelling to avoid roaming charges outside Europe.
I stumbled on the message when I accidently logged in to Skype on my phone. Similarly, I found a week-only iMessage on my iPad recently – it hadn’t come through to my Samsung Galaxy SIII. These anecdotes illustrate how fragmented the messaging market has become with the dramatic shift from text and email to a host of IP-based communications apps.
On the upside, we now have a much richer set of communication options, which support cool features, such as presence. But on the downside, people are using these tools in different, sometimes unpredictable ways, making life more complicated and increasing the chances of missives being missed, just as I did with the Skype message from Japan.
Fickleness fuels more fragmentation
This fragmentation is being exacerbated by fickle consumers’ tendency to sign up for the latest and greatest app as they get bored or frustrated with a particular service. Outages to WhatsApp in the second half of 2012, following an app update, prompted many users to switch to alternatives, notably chat service Line, according to industry experts. Owned by NHN Japan Corporation, Line has notched up 100 million registered users in just 18 months, which is three times faster than Facebook, according to Bloomberg.
Granted, many communications apps, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, will send you an email when you get a direct message. But putting everything through an already over-crowded email inbox isn’t necessarily the answer – I tend to make emails from Facebook a low priority because I assume they aren’t urgent and are unlikely to be work-related.
But there are people that use Facebook as a primary communications medium for both business and social chatter, reflecting the broader trend in which the lines between work and personal life are blurring fast. Some go-getters think nothing of firing off emails and messages to colleagues from the ski lift or the sun-lounger.
The fragmentation in the messaging space is compounded by the fact that many people keep mobile data turned off when roaming outside their home country – that means they won’t necessarily see messages coming in from Facebook, LinkedIn, WhatsApp and the like. There are also ongoing problems sending messages across platforms – on my Android phone, picture messages sent from my wife’s iPhone arrive as a link with a password – a really cumbersome process.
Prioritise people, not apps
In summary, mobile messaging is far too complex and fiddly right now. For me, the solution is for your smartphone operating system to become an uber-efficient personal assistant. It should automatically monitor all communications apps you register with and then proritise messages according to the sender, rather than the medium. In other words, I need a unified communications solution that can flag incoming messages from my clients (and my wife) on the homescreen of my smartphone regardless of whether they travelled via Facebook, Skype, LinkedIn, SMS, MMS or whatever.
Ideally, this UC solution needs to be frequently upgraded to incorporate fashionable new services, such as Line, as well as Facebook, Linkedin and other stalwarts.
Of course, you don’t really want to prioritise your hundreds (or even thousands) of contacts yourself – the mobile UC solution should be able to see which messages you open and which you ignore and figure out who is important and who isn’t. Of course, your personal assistant will also need to be able to distinguish between spam and genuine enquiries – a message from a previously unknown contact might be asking you to apply for a fantastic new job.
Many employers and employees will also want the UC to support a “dual persona” in which work messages are separated from personal messages. Whereas the former may need to be monitored for legal reasons, the latter should remain private. Indeed, the message prioritisation process must be done in a way that protects my privacy – I don’t want any of my contacts to know that they are way down the pecking order.
In essence, we need a smarter way to communicate with the people that are important to us, which doesn’t rely on sifting through email or checking a dozen apps at regular intervals. I'll be moderating a panel discussion on messaging for Mobile World Live TV at the Mobile World Congress next week.