Most new mobile messenger apps are tied to age old oligopolies

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Name one popular messenger app that has launched in last 2 years that does not ask you for your mobile phone number when signing up. You will be hard pressed to do so. Ok, I might be exaggerating a wee bit but I think you get the point.

If we think about this for a minute it starts to sound a bit odd. New messaging apps mandate that you have a mobile number where you can receive a SMS message so you can join their OTT (Over The Top) community? That’s a bit weird isn’t it? Why not ask them to sign in with identities not tied to a cell phone? Email is certainly more prolific than connected cell phones, right?

So, why is this?

Onboarding is the process used to describe bringing a new user from the discovery process to an active user inside the app/service.

Our smartphone OSs (android, iOS) have made it very easy for devs to take the user’s mobile number and entire address book and upload that to their cloud, which most apps do today. Once in the cloud that data can be used to connect you with others that have done the same thing. Depending on your level of paranoia this can get a bit creepy or you have simply accepted it as the new normal.

To replicate the simplicity of this onboarding process in other forms is not so easy and not near as effective, it would seem.

Other developers defer to the largest social networks as a method for authenticating users, we have done this for our reference apps. Although, there have been plenty of reasons why users may not be interested in signing into your app using their social identity; privacy issues, hijacked accounts to name a couple. Also, why would you as a developer hand over your entire user base to a social network?

Virality is how easily the app spreads through the network.  If the virality of your app hits a point where users are simply adding the app to keep up with their buddies, network effect kicks in, but that generally does not happen for the majority of the apps produced.

SMS messages have a much higher open rate than email and other forms of messaging, for various reasons, which makes SMS a great way to send app invites. It’s also dead easy for the app vendor to enable. If you are on a mobile phone, the dev need not come up with a 3rd party system to send invites, they just use your phone’s own capabilities to send the invites. Less expense for them, open rates increase due to the fact that it looks like its coming from you.

Social messaging has abysmal open rates. Much of the time Social Messages relies on notifications and push messages that are usually ignored or turned off by the user, current company included.

So what options do devs have when creating a messenger app or messenger feature in a app (text messaging, real-time voice or video) where we do not want to rely on phone companies for that initial base of users?

Why not a combination of all the above?

The future lies within federated identity models that allow your users to sign in with whatever ID they prefer and communicate without being pigeon holed into handing over their phone number if they do not feel comfortable doing so.

Developers have their reasons for choosing one ID model versus another, some reasons I have captured in this article. Thankfully, there is no reason to force users into making choices they are not comfortable making. Supporting multiple IDs in a federated model that will allow your LinkedIn authenticated user to communicate with the Phone number authenticated users, exists today.

Imagine a world  where devs can tie custom IDs (your own 3rd party ID model) to social and traditional IDs like phone numbers to electrify a mobile communications paradise. A world where we need not hand the keys of the entire user base over to a social network.

Yep, its real, if you want more information, send us a note we’ll be happy to fill you in.

 

PS. If you feel compelled to weigh in on Net Neutrality and safeguarding the Open Internet, its not too late. Do so here: Email Chairman Tom Wheeler at the FCC, some of the recent comments of the more than 650,000 comments already received.

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