Instant messaging dates back to the 1960s, but the history of mobile instant messaging is much shorter. The inventor of SMS, Matti Makkonen, the Finnish tele operator Radiolinja and the mobile phone manufacturer Nokia first introduced commercially sold SMS in 1993. By 2010 an estimated 3.5 billion people around the globe were sending SMS messages on mobile phones. SMS revolutionised people’s day-to-day messaging and turned it to short and instant “texting”. Still, the mobile messaging revolution had just begun.
The 1st wave – mobile instant messaging
In the golden age of SMS in 2009, Jongla was founded in Helsinki, Finland. Jongla’s aim was to offer a free messaging service to people. Backed by investors, Jongla began building a web-based service called JonglaFree that indeed offered free messaging for users as long as they were willing to see ads. But soon the team heard about a rising American innovation that would change the messaging game.
Brian Acton and Jan Koum, former Yahoo employees, were pioneers who were among the first to see that Apple’s app ecosystem was the future. They created an iOS app and took advantage of push notifications to introduce the first versions of Whatsapp. The company was incorporated in January, 2009 and by early 2011, it was already one of the top apps in the US.
Jongla saw the shift and had the confidence to enter the new world of mobile instant messaging. They hired new talent working on smartphone platforms to examine the current and potential technology solutions to create a completely new strategy. All the existing code had to be sacrificed and investors had to be convinced of this pivot. Jongla’s new instant messaging app, with the ability to share unlimited text, stickers, photos and videos, first saw daylight in December 2012.
The 2nd wave – apps become platforms
Jongla wasn’t the only company to notice the massive opportunity instant messaging provided. Soon, a war over the multi-billion potential of mobile messaging users erupted. Facebook, Kakaotalk, Viber, WeChat, Line and many more all joined the global competition in the early 2010s. These apps typically enabled people to stay in touch via private text messages and to share emoji, stickers, photos, videos and location.
Jongla saw their pivot prove to be successful. They soon added Windows Phone and Firefox OS apps on top of Android and iOS to offer a truly cross-platform service and to cover as many markets as possible. Jongla started gaining significant traction in Southeast Asia and designed the product to please this demographic accordingly. Not long after, Jongla also released features like official accounts for brands and businesses, interactive stickers, voice messages with filters and social discovery. One of the most successful strategic decisions for Jongla was the Lite strategy – minimising app size and data consumption. This was warmly welcomed in many countries like Brazil, Nigeria, India and Indonesia where mobile data is expensive, connections unreliable and where people have low-end smartphones with limited memory.
The growth of instant messaging happened at the expense of SMS and mobile operators. Their profits continued to decrease even more so when messaging apps started offering phone and video calls on a mass scale. Instant messaging was now such a big part of people’s lives that some companies like Line and WeChat started offering more and more services inside their apps. Dating, games, music, hailing a taxi, payments and money transfer were all part of the messaging experience. This paved the way for the next wave of the messaging revolution.
The 3rd wave – businesses start chatting
People have adopted instant messaging as the way to communicate. Whether at school, work or freetime, conversation is now centered around messaging apps. The frequent sessions with chat apps make them an ideal platform for other experiences too. What most messaging apps still lack though, is a sustainable revenue model.
It seems likely that the future of digital commerce and customer service, just to mention a few, is in messaging. Within the last five years, messaging apps have started to introduce enterprise services, some more successfully than others. But it wasn’t until the latest development in Artificial Intelligence (AI) that companies’ heads started to turn towards messaging apps. The overwhelming amount of business intelligence combined with chatbots and AI holds great potential for businesses. Many messaging apps have introduced their first chatbots and everyone is waiting to see the first real success stories.
Messaging apps are becoming a new ecosystem for doing business because consumers are getting tired of installing new apps. People are accustomed to using conversational interfaces which has now been noticed by businesses too. Jongla started building their own bot ecosystem in 2016. With businesses in mind, they started developing their own bots as a proof of concept. Jongla aims to publish their first commercial bots later in 2017 and plans to add their own innovations to the game.
Messaging apps now have the potential to become the main medium for communication between consumers and businesses. Messaging apps already function as browsers for Internet content and AI-powered bots will be the new interface for shopping, customer service, entertainment and utility services. This phenomenon is the fourth industrial revolution that will shake the current business structures in most sectors such as banking, travel, retail, healthcare, entertainment and work life in general.
Welcome to the era of the bots!