Photo Messaging: What Will They Think of Next?
Real innovation, the type that imposes disruptive change on the life of a worker or a consumer, typically results from an innovator believing that the status quo is no longer good enough. The history of communications has proved this repeatedly, perhaps in no segment more so than messaging.
A recent announcement of a new form of messaging, photo messaging to be precise, got me thinking about the past and the future.
First came voice messaging (voicemail), at least as far as technology-based messaging is concerned. This replaced the long-standing paper-based approach of messaging (the other kind of pinkslip). Pinkslips (While You Were Out) were a pain. It forced employees to check with someone like a receptionist if they had any messages.
Because there was an intermediary involved, messages were rarely personal or complex. Typically, only that “Joe called and said to call him back.” This very failure to actually communicate, along with digitization improvements had plenty to do with the growth of voicemail. Users reveled in the delight of receiving “detailed” messages, complete with all sorts of usable information. Indeed, voice mailboxes brought phonetag to a whole new level, as two people could carry out an entire conversation without ever actually talking live.
After a good run of 15-20 years, voicemail switched from facilitating communications to hindering it. It seemed impossible to reach anyone – it was the birth of our mobility quest. We were becoming mobile, but our phones weren’t. No longer did people update their greetings on a daily basis (I never understood that anyway), the ever-useful group message went the way of the dinosaur and early adopters gave birth to a new messaging medium called email.
Technically email predates voicemail, but it was the Internet boom of the late 90s that made email effective between companies. Email soon became something we no longer knew how we once lived without. In an ironic twist, it was the voicemail industry that got the pink slip. Well, not quite – voicemail is standard issue and continues to get used. AVST is the heir apparent and continues to push the technology forward with things like speech recognition and location based routing, but clearly voicemail isn’t the only messaging solution anymore.
While at the height of email growth it seemed impossible to imagine what messaging could bring us next, something the mobile companies called text messaging was brewing. Limited in length – indeed emails could go on as long as they liked – but did not require a computer or a physical connection. It proved to be useful for finding people on the go – like where to meet at the airport. Alas, while email is not going away, texting has nibbled its way into the business world. Email is for longer form less urgent communications.
Less pervasive but still popular forms of messaging have evolved, mostly under the broader roof of social media. Those who use these services often, like Facebook and Twitter, often use them as a central form of two-way messaging. What’s fascinating about social messaging is the group dynamic. Posting a comment to someone’s status is often aimed more at the group as a public declaration. Suddenly, non participants are active in a conversation. The long cc list on email was similar, but there was at least a record of who was included.... now there isn’t. I meet complete strangers at a conference who know what movie I recently saw.
Now comes the advent of what some call “Photo Messaging.” This new-fangled medium leverages the near 100 percent penetration of the picture-enabled smartphone. Photo messaging works like this: you take a picture of yourself (selfie) or your surroundings and along with metadata-like location it becomes the message. No text, no email, no nothing – though they do say a picture is worth a thousand words. Just the picture itself represents the message.
Even more amazing is the recipient then replies back with a photo message of their own – we have now non-verbal and non-textual message-based conversations. Several startups, including one called DingDong (yes, that’s right), are chasing this apparent new need. DingDong and others are profiled in here.
I started by saying that innovation is spurred by problems or inefficiencies with the incumbent methods, but I can’t say I fully understand what was wrong enough to spur on photo messaging. Then again, I imagine there were many who were satisfied with their little pink slips. When it comes to something as pervasive as messaging, perhaps we should assume something better (or different) is always around the corner. Could that be Video mail?