woman with cell phone

Legend has it that SMS started as a “poor-man’s” channel for network company technicians.

The originally modest and simple concept of sending text as a message from one phone to another grew into a very big business for carriers.

Today, SMS is not even remotely close to what it was in its heyday due to messaging platforms like WhatsApp, iMessage, Facebook Messenger, WeChat or any of the others you use on your mobile device.

There is no question that these are far superior to traditional SMS services of old.

Many New Messaging Services

In the past year or so we’ve seen a rush of services move towards including messaging responding to the need to incorporate a messaging channel with the people they serve, such as:

  • Connecting users and customers to support and sales agents
  • Connecting users and suppliers in an aggregated marketplace
  • Connecting users within communities and social networks to each other

If you don’t believe me, check out Sony’s announcement from December: It is adding a PlayStation Messages App so you can communicate with other players. Messaging is literally everywhere and it is here to stay.

Understanding WebRTC

Many of these messaging interactions inherently need to “escalate” into something else to complete the service function and require an experience that doesn’t fit into the confines of a text message or an image.

These interactions often need to extend or evolve into a voice or a video call. That’s where WebRTC comes in.

WebRTC, for all intent and purposes, enables developers and companies to embed voice and video communications into their applications and websites.

You can build a WebRTC module on your own, use a third party service like Twilio's WebRTC SDK or use one of the many other vendors.

In-App Messaging

Taking messaging (text and rich media), voice and video calling and packing them into a single application is called in-app messaging. You open up an application — the self-service application of a bank, that dating service you subscribed to recently, the outsourcing site you use to find and interact with freelancers for your project - and you can start communicating with others.

In the world of in-app messaging, Facebook is coming on strong with a Messenger Bots API, Messenger Platform for Business and a promise of new WhatsApp offerings. Both initiatives are about letting businesses communicate directly with customers via messaging.

3 Options for Vendors

When today’s vendors consider adding messaging to their own services, they have three alternatives:

1. Use ubiquitous SMS

It does work. And it works everywhere. If a mobile device has a cellular number, it can receive an SMS. But it is still old-fashioned; it lacks features and context. If you try to “upgrade” an SMS “conversation” to voice you typically lose the context.

2. Rely on a social network

Meet customers and interact with them on Facebook Messenger or on other social networks that have this feature. While many users and customers may already be there, enough may not. It also may also devalue the brand. What self-respecting brand must “force” users to have a Facebook account to interact with them? It also may distract customers away from the company’s app towards the social media channel.

3. Build your own

Companies can build their own “walled garden” messaging system — one that fits and focused on their own user base. But this requires significant development and ongoing maintenance.

messaging options

The challenges and risks of self-development can be mitigated by fully managed, programmable IP third party offerings like Twilio — one of several programmable IP messaging players.

Integrate Messaging into Your App

An interesting competitive dynamic is emerging from this. Not between similar players on a level playing field, but rather between two distinctly separate domains.

As this trend continues, SMS will continue to become less and less relevant for business messaging.

Companies will then need to choose between using a “federated” service and relying on a social network to handpick the company’s customers and enable interactions with them or opt for a “silo” approach with a custom-made in-app messaging within its own application ecosystem built in.

Until now most companies opted for the silo approach, typically due to lack of connectivity alternatives.

As social networks and their messaging services evolve into messaging and e-commerce platforms in their quest for new revenue streams from businesses paying for ways to interact with large customer bases, it will be interesting to see if this plays out.

Will it only benefit social networks by bringing them more business users? Or will it be the tide that raises all the ships toward more companies adopting in-app messaging in all shapes and sizes?