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Messaging apps are eating software, so what's your chat strategy?

The Drum has assembled an enviable panel of magnificent minds from the industry and beyond to identify the latest trends and brilliant ideas shaping our space. Here’s what’s been exciting them lately…

SapientNitro’s experience design director Daniel Harvey explores the meteoric rise of messaging apps.

Famed venture capitalist Marc Andreessen said in a 2011 Wall Street Journal article “software is eating the world”. Fast forward four years and it’s clear that not all software is equal. Messaging apps are experiencing a meteoric rise above all others.

According to comScore, 40 per cent of US mobile subscribers use messaging apps a t least once a month. Ofcom recently reported that in the UK 50 per cent of the top eight downloaded apps are messengers. Two out of the top three apps are chat apps from Facebook. Flurry, a mobile analytics firm, says that messaging apps saw a 103 per cent rise globally in 2014. WhatsApp had 50 per cent greater traffic than all global SMS use.

What’s important to realise is that these apps are often becoming platforms. Think of them as stealth operating systems on top of your existing OS, infiltrating your life through your notifications panel. They’re one-stop portals to everything you need on your smartphone. The most successful, like WeChat or Messenger, are facilitating more than just chat.

WeChat supports P2P payments, shopping, booking taxis and restaurants and more. Facebook Messenger, with its soon to launch ‘M’ virtual assistant, will be able to do all that and who knows what else. The need to have standalone apps for these individual functions becomes questionable. What impact could this have on Venmo, Jet, Hailo, OpenTable, etc? What about Google Now, Cortana and Siri?

More importantly, what does that do to other types of app experiences? These examples show that a conversational user interface (UI) can work in a variety of situations, but why is it preferred?

Well firstly, there’s a similarity that’s comfortable and familiar. There’s no need to learn a new UI or pattern. We all know chat boils down to text on the right/left and input on the bot tom.

Secondly, chat can be instantaneous or asynchronous. If you want a bus time, then bots, AIs and schedules can shoot that out immediately. If you want to buy luchador finery , then humans can take some time to find you the best deal.

And lastly, it’s an ideal medium for customer service. If social media has taught us anything, it’s that people want to inter act with brands to complain. Chat apps allow customers the same opportunity but one that is more discrete and less damaging to brands.

Many people use services like Nike+ or Moves for fitness tracking. It’s easy to imagine those apps becoming real coaches via the addition of chat behaviours. Likewise, your banking app could become a banker that answers stressful questions about mortgages.

If software is eating the world then it’s clear that messaging is eating software. Or to paraphrase another venture capitalist, Benedict Evans, “It used to be that all software expands until it includes messaging. Now all messaging expands until it includes software.”

Are you prepared for that? Are you really ready to talk to your customers? What’s your chat strategy?

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