Google's messaging comeback
June 28, 2019
A conversational newsletter from
Smooch by Zendesk 

Google’s gotten a lot of grief for its messaging strategy, and rightly so. 

While Facebook and Apple have seen their messaging platforms become indispensable to users and businesses alike, Google has launched a litany of apps whose pithy names (Buzz, Wave, Allo, Hangouts, and the list goes on) couldn’t save them from the dustbin of chat history. 

But lately it seems like the search giant has got its messaging groove back. 

Getting to RC-yes 🤞

By now you’re familiar with RCS, the new telecom standard that’s supposed to rescue old fashioned text messaging from the flip-phone era. 

RCS stands for Rich Communication Services and it comes with modern messaging features like read receipts, typing indicators and verified business profiles. In other words, it looks and feels like iMessage or WhatsApp but works over your cell phone network instead of the internet, à la SMS. 

For the last year or two, Google has been spearheading a campaign to get global telcos and device carriers to support RCS and stymie its messaging competitors in the process. 

Now it’s finally taking matters into its own hands. 

By the end of this month, Android users in France and the U.K. (and soon elsewhere) will be able to opt in to RCS services provided directly by Google instead of waiting for their telco to flip the switch. 

While this may sound like a minor development in the decade-old RCS saga, it’s actually a “huge shift in strategy,” explains The Verge
« It’s not quite the Google equivalent of an iMessage service for Android users, but it’s close.

Paranoid Android 🤖

Google’s gambit solves one of the major hurdles for RCS success, which is that up until now it depended on global carriers and device makers to play nicely with each other. 

The other hurdle is even bigger. Unlike WhatsApp, iMessage and other internet-based (OTT) chat apps like Telegram and Signal, RCS does not boast end-to-end encryption — a fact Amnesty International raked Google over the coals for last year. 

For privacy-conscious users, end-to-end encryption has become table stakes, as Mary Meeker showed in her latest internet trends report. 

The good news is that Google finally seems to get it. Sanaz Ahari, the product director responsible for Android Messages assured The Verge it’s committed to finding a solution. 

Place your (Alpha)bets 🎲

As I argue in The Next Web, RCS is only half of Google’s two-pronged strategy to dominate B2C messaging.

The other is Google business messaging, which the company is quietly integrating into Maps and search — two areas where it’s no laggard. 

Meanwhile, as VentureBeat’s Khari Johnson observes, the company’s voice messaging strategy is “ubiquitous and comprehensive,” boasting both AI (Google Assistant, Google Duplex) and hardware (Google Home) that puts it at the top of the conversational class.

In Johnson's view:
« All of this adds up to one fact: By some measure, Google may have already won the chat wars.

Has conversational journalism run its Quartz?

In this year’s State of Messaging report, we explored how publishers are experimenting with chatbots and messaging apps to tell stories in a more conversational way. 

Regular readers will remember the Thanksgiving-themed Angry Uncle chatbot, the New York Times’ conversational op-ed. Bestselling author James Patterson offered a teaser of his latest novel via Messenger. 

But the gold standard for conversational content is the Quartz Brief, which has been delivering the news in a fresh, chat-based format since 2016. 

This week Digiday reported the experiment is coming to an end. 

Bursting the bubble 💬 

While Quartz Brief, which was available as a standalone mobile app and via Facebook Messenger, was widely admired, it never attracted a particularly large audience, reports Joshua Benton from Harvard’s Neiman Lab.  

Some found it tedious engaging with a chatbot to get the news. Others saw Quartz as a “commercial invader in what is probably the most personal space on your phone.”

Here at Smooch we’ve toyed with the idea of delivering The Message via messaging apps (meta, right?) and even built a prototype during our last hackathon

Although it would surely be a neat way to show off Smooch’s omnichannel chatbot capabilities, we weren’t convinced it’d be a fundamentally better reading experience than email, a publishing medium I’m also pretty passionate about, as I explained recently in an interview with Letterlist

I still believe in the possibilities of conversational content, I’m just not sure a newsletter, which is essentially a broadcast medium, is the best use case.

For what it’s worth, Facebook seems to agree. It announced last week that publishers won’t be able to send out newsletters on WhatsApp as of December 9. As Benton puts it:
« Just because people like to chat on their phones doesn’t mean they want to chat with you, news organizations.

🤗 Thanks for reading! You can send me your feedback, questions and newsletter recommendations by replying to this email. 

Dan Levy
Editorial Director

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