Messaging has changed the way we live, but I believe we are just getting started. We've been working on mobile chat since August 2014. Sometime around January 2015, the world of tech start-ups seemed to coalesce around how messaging would be the big Meta trend for the next three to four years.
I'd say messaging has two main properties: It is asynchronous (i.e. you are not stuck doing only one thing, which is the case on a voice or video call) and it is personal (there is a human being on the other end). This allows messaging apps to have extremely high engagement among mobile apps (better than even social media apps or games).
Having spent some time reading, thinking, and meeting people in this space, I thought I'd put down some of my thoughts. Here are some interesting trends that I see:
Search will become conversational: Apart from the trend of fewer people searching on their mobile phones and going directly to an app for a specific reason (both Google and Baidu are looking for ways to adapt to this trend), it is also true that the traditional method of web search will not work on mobile. Showing 10 links for a string of words, as used to happen in the desktop era, will be replaced by something a lot more personal and contextual-almost like a search result. Instead of 10 links that you could visit, you will chat and find the right result-it will be as simple as having a conversation. A good example is Luka, an app that helps you find which restaurant you should visit over an AI-powered chat. Google has been going in this direction as well without embracing chat directly. For example, you get specific answers for a lot of questions (e.g. when searching for a celebrity), it keeps your previous searches in mind whenever you search for something new (i.e. remembers context like in a conversation), and with Google Now, it uses different data points to find 'conversation starters'. However, these are still early days. A lot more will happen in this area and Google's On Tap product is one example.
Consumer-to-business chat will take off: If you think about it, there still is no easy way of connecting with a large brand or a local business. For example, consumers hate contacting the call centres of large brands and marketers hate having to provide customer service over Facebook or Twitter. For local businesses, you get the number from JustDial and then do things over the phone. So many things are still done in the old way here-fixing an appointment, making a payment, getting information, and so on. A lot of these local businesses are already using WhatsApp to chat with customers (e.g. grocers are taking orders over chat, interior designers are sending designs over chat). My guess is that dedicated apps will help consumers and businesses connect with each other. The real conversation will happen on the app (one-on-one), though overall marketing might flow to really big platforms like WeChat and WhatsApp. Another trend I am seeing is that chat will be integrated into most brands' own apps, since this is one of the best ways to engage with your app users. In India, where the uninstall rate of apps is high and consumers have too many options, chat will become an important personalised way for brands to keep the customer hooked to their app.
Looks and feels like chat, but isn't: WhatsApp was initially, exactly the same as SMS (exchanging text bubbles), except that it was free. But chat allows you to do a lot more and this will evolve from current actions, like voice messages, and sharing images or contacts. Chat will include two-way interactive and discreet actions, and there will be limitless possibilities around this, starting from selecting options, making payments and purchases over chat, to playing games. A good example of innovation is how Hike showed cricket score cards and conducted polls within a chat interface during the cricket World Cup in 2015. This is one space where everyone in India is at the same level as global chat players (even WeChat and Line have not figured out how this aspect of chat will evolve).
NLP, ML, and AI will become important: As messaging becomes pervasive, AI, ML, NLP, and other such real tech aspects will gain importance in scaling it and helping it succeed. For example, it is easier for everyone to simply access a given piece of information over a web browser (in a way, when you land on an Amazon product page, it is a conversation: 'Hey Ankur! Here's the Dell laptop you were looking for. And here are its features. Btw, our users love it; they have rated it 4.3. If you don't like it, let me show you some related options that others saw.'). The only way to do the same thing in a more personal way over chat is by working with NLP or ML. And this ability to understand the user's intent better and then answer his query in the course of a conversation will improve (although, today, the marginal utility of spending more and more effort on this drops sharply).
Different uses of P2P chat will get unbundled: People use FB Messenger and WhatsApp in different ways to connect with friends, co-workers and businesses. Connecting with friends is getting unbundled by younger users who are using Snapchat or interacting with each other on Instagram. Slack is doing a better job of helping you connect with co-workers in a way that FB Messenger and WhatsApp cannot do (knowledge base, repository, privacy, etc). For chat to become easier to use for businesses, apps will need to integrate a CRM element and payments, among other things.
WhatsApp, WeChat, and FB Messenger have fundamentally changed the default usage of the mobile phone (e.g. more time is spent messaging than browsing). This change will bring messaging into places you might not have expected and we are already seeing strong early evidence of this happening. Exciting times lie ahead!