The killer feature of messaging

Messaging looks set to disrupt the computing landscape but not for any of the reasons you might expect. Chat’s threaded UI, where all communication and actions are placed in a clear context of who, what and why, is the killer feature that’s been around forever and yet everyone is overlooking.

Mobile is the future of global computing, and according to Mary Meeker and Co., the killer app for mobile continues to be messaging (a.k.a. Conversational UI among pedantic product designers like me.) In 2015, messengers surpassed social networks in both number of users and rate of growth. And even though the mobile-OS-plus-app thing is still strong, research consistently shows that users interact with just 27 unique apps per month, and actually care about far fewer over time.

To find fresh, lightweight ways to reach users, forward-thinking businesses are turning to chat (and of course Intercom helps companies do this!). Chatbots have been anointed by industry leaders like Zuckerberg and Satya as the way to launch and scale this effort, and it’s all really real, according to Gartner (via Techcrunch). They predict by 2018 a full 30 percent of our technology interactions will be mediated through conversations with bots.

New threaded experiences will be enabled, supplanting single-purpose apps, sites, and services – even on the desktop

But chat UI will not blow up just because of bots or other emerging UI bits and pieces. As messengers evolve into full blown computing platforms, new threaded experiences will be enabled, supplanting single-purpose apps, sites, and services—even on the desktop. It’s the threaded organisation of interactions into useful contexts centered around people, businesses and task threads that could change the world.

Chat UI as a platform

On top of the twin forces of app-ennui and bot-ification, there’s a third force at work that’s gaining momentum—and it’s the one that could really transform chat into a general purpose platform. It’s the tighter and tighter integration of third party services, notably payments, into threads. The Chinese chat leader, WeChat, has a general purpose wallet and interpersonal micro-transfer platform that’s huge in the Chinese market. Reuters reported that in 2016, WeChat’s estimated transaction volume on personal transfers alone (excluding wallet transactions like movies, meals and wheels) will be almost double PayPal’s $280bn 2015 volume, and all without the aid of single bot!

While it’s true that uniquely Chinese factors steroid-ed this growth (a distrust for online card payments, a trust of mobile operators, and a giant population) western messengers such as Snapchat and Facebook M also have integrated payments, and rumors abound that Apple Messenger and Telegram will soon follow suit. Messenger payments are definitely coming and where payments go, so goes general commerce.

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