Texting times?  How are you

communicating?

We appear to be going backwards to the future as familiar things return - albeit with a slightly new twist.  When mobile phones deluged the high streets in the early 1990s, text messaging quickly became the big thing.  What made texting so successful, so quickly, was that it was initially free, (compared with the voice call charges) and it was also highly convenient for both the sender and receiver.  Even when the mobile network companies saw how popular it was and began to charge, texting was still much cheaper and convenient than making a voice call, and it still is.  But now other factors are influencing the growth and level of texting.  Let me explain:  in a hectic world, the appeal of asynchronous communication (you can read the message whenever you want to) has grown exponentially, and now that Smartphones have been globally adopted, the concept of cheap and instant messaging, including pictures, of course (I send a selfie, therefore I am) has become almost an addictive way of life… In November 2013 I wrote about Facebook’s decline, and whilst researching that piece, I read an article on Yahoo, and noted a few comments that neatly summed up Facebook’s problem – I’ve taken the liberty of editing them for space and clarity.  Here’s the first one: “The internet is stealing people’s lives….. I deleted my Facebook a while back for a bunch of reasons.  It just seems clichéd now, as does all social networking.  I don’t use my computer to feel like I have a life!”  Here’s another: “I recently opted out of Facebook because of the malicious comments made by posters. While it has some good points the bullying is out of control.”  And another: “Facebook needs to get serious about customer service as well as creating a product of service and substance, or it will face extinction the direction it is going in now.”  The resentment and anger being so forcefully expressed are palpable.  And one more comment: “The people I want to hear from have my phone number.”  In response to Yahoo’s article on Facebook not one person was positive, nor did anybody mention any of the presumed benefits of the service – indeed there were many comments I haven’t included because of the harsh language and profanities used.  This reminds me very much of comments I saw around the time MySpace declined as Facebook rose to supremacy.  It seems that such unforgiving and often abusive language is common amongst online commentators as there’s little generosity of spirit in an anonymous environment.  I know the Yahoo responses are an infinitesimal sample of qualitative research, but they do seem to demonstrate the currently prevailing concept that social networking is a time suck.  If you are not sure what that phrase means you can look it up here.  Ironically the first reference to the word “time suck” in the urban slang dictionary in 2009 cited Facebook as an example of how to use the phrase. When I give presentations and lectures I often remind my audience of the far-seeing wisdom of Herbert Simon, the Nobel Laureate.  At the dawn of the computer age, Simon was one of the first individuals to think comprehensively about people, organisations and systems for handling information.  In 1969 Simon wrote: "In an information-rich world, most of the cost of information is the cost incurred by the recipient.  It is not enough to know how much it costs to produce and transmit it; we must also know how much it costs, in terms of scarce attention, to receive it.”  If you are interested you can see the original draft that Simon wrote for this paper if you click here.  After eight or nine years of using social networks like Facebook, many people are beginning to find out for themselves what Simon understood over 44 years ago: that the greatest cost of using Facebook is their time.  In the same paper he also wrote “Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention…”   How prescient is that?  Today one rarely manages to receive the full attention of anyone between the ages of 14 and 40 years old.  Which brings me back to text messaging.  My wife and I recently mustered our three adult children (in their 30’s), who’ve all long since flown the nest and are scattered around the country, with their partners and our first grandchild, to a posh restaurant for a celebratory Christmas lunch.  Afterwards we all went back to our house for drinks.  Hardly had the coats been hung up and the baby been safely stowed than iPhones and Samsungs instantly appeared from bags and pockets and our Wi-Fi password was demanded.  Power sockets were promptly commandeered to charge low batteries, and there then commenced a feverish tap- tapping on touch screens as they all caught up with their WhatsApp groups.  As the chart above demonstrates WhatsApp is the new Facebook in terms of consuming attention.  (Note that it is only in the U.S., the home of its birth, that Facebook is still the most used messaging app).  Apart from a periodically brief heads up to select their chosen tipples and to be topped up, our grown-up children and their best beloveds then proceeded to share most of our quality family time simultaneously engaged with WhatsApp as if they’d been incommunicado for months.  For the next couple of hours or so, they exchanged a constant stream of text messages and selfies via their smartphones with all their virtual “friends,” while my wife and I bemusedly witnessed the cacophony of pings, grunts, giggles, sound snippets and squeals.  Our chatty gambits were hardly noticed, and we received the occasional conversational phrase aimed in our direction like two neglected seals eager for a fishy titbit.   Comparing and commiserating with friends (in actuality) reassures us that we are not alone.  The data in the chart above (taken from research firm On Device’s Messenger Wars) illustrates that this failure to engage in the real world because of over-engagement in a virtual one is now a common global phenomena.  Another interesting finding from the same study is that in countries like Indonesia and South Africa, people have on average over four messaging apps installed on their phones. That’s nearly twice the number used in China and the U.S.  In fact Americans have the lowest number of messaging apps installed, usually only two (Facebook and WhatsApp) compared with the other three continents.   I believe this is one of the reasons behind Facebook’s failure in the global messaging market, and losing out in this area is going to be serious for the company, because messaging using text, images, sound or video is now the primary social networking activity.  On Device found that over 63% of worldwide smartphone users they questioned reported using social messaging at least 10 times per day. WhatsApp is successful because it provides a neat solution for the fragmented mobile Web.  The On Device survey found that people use social apps primarily to communicate with friends who are not on a compatible network or device.  In countries like Indonesia and South Africa there are more mobile phone choices, some of them older models, as the market is much more fragmented than in the U.S.  While the trend in the U.S. is for people to swap their Blackberry phones for either iPhones or Android smartphones, this is not happening to anywhere near the same extent in other countries.  So in Indonesia, for example, Blackberry phones are still popular (especially as they now sell for lower prices), and the second most visited brand page on Facebook is the Blackberry page.  And there are lots of old Nokia Symbian phones still in use.  This is obviously why people in Indonesia have installed twice the number of apps compared to the U.S.  Using WhatsApp solves the communication problems – acting like a communicating glue between Nokia, Symbian, Windows Phone, Blackberry, iPhone and Android.  As a bonus, and unlike Facebook, WhatsApp is advertising free.  Their business model is a modified “freemium,” where the app is free for the first year and after that there will be a nominal subscription charge of $0.99 per year.  Of course many people are still on their first “free” year, but when subscription time arrives the annual cost is so low that most users are unlikely to balk at making such a teeny payment to keep in contact with their friends.  Illogically Facebook is steadily increasing the number of advertisements fired at people, and starting to interrupt and irritate them with video ads.  In fact in its latest financial results earnings call Facebook said it intends to start feeding 15 second video ads every 20 or so messages… In June 2012 the two founders of WhatsApp posted an article titled “Why we don’t sell ads.”  It starts with an apocryphal quote from Tyler Durden in the movie Fight Club: “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”  This concept has caught the zeitgeist of the frightening economic situation which is reality for the majority of us.  In many ways Facebook is so pre-2008, not just due to its association with desktop computers, nor even with its using advertising to earn revenue, but because it’s trying to apply a digital lock-in.  This was captured accurately by one final comment from the Yahoo article I mentioned earlier: “Zuckerberg dreamed it be the only game in town. Not so.”  By unlocking Facebook’s digital padlock WhatsApp has enabled people to connect to a vastly bigger network than Facebook ever conceived.  Ironically, WhatsApp was produced by two people who between them spent 20 years working hard selling advertisements to keep Yahoo going.  They were astute and imaginative enough to realise the mobile Web isn’t suited to advertising and they have proved one can become a global player with as little as $8 million of funding. According to Ovum, the market for messaging apps will grow from 27.5 trillion messages in 2013 to 71.5 trillion messages by the end of 2014.  Ultimately all this is bad news for Facebook, and also for mobile phone networks.  Increased levels of social messaging means fewer phones will actually be used for talking synchronously person-to-person, resulting in a decimated voice-traffic revenue.  During 2014 Ovum expects mobile messaging apps like WhatsApp to bypass social media networks like Facebook and to emerge as digital platforms in their own right.   I agree, I haven’t previously observed such a powerful global trend where so many disparate people have so quickly coalesced around such a similar activity.  This is viral behaviour with a real network effect, and as messaging apps are low cost items, it’s happening at a much faster pace than the purchasing of smartphones.   On that basis my wife and I will be expecting even less attention from our WhatsApp-enabled offspring when we next see them… January 2014  
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Texting times?  How are

you communicating?

We appear to be going backwards to the future as familiar things return - albeit with a slightly new twist.  When mobile phones deluged the high streets in the early 1990s, text messaging quickly became the big thing.  What made texting so successful, so quickly, was that it was initially free, (compared with the voice call charges) and it was also highly convenient for both the sender and receiver.  Even when the mobile network companies saw how popular it was and began to charge, texting was still much cheaper and convenient than making a voice call, and it still is.  But now other factors are influencing the growth and level of texting.  Let me explain:  in a hectic world, the appeal of asynchronous communication (you can read the message whenever you want to) has grown exponentially, and now that Smartphones have been globally adopted, the concept of cheap and instant messaging, including pictures, of course (I send a selfie, therefore I am) has become almost an addictive way of life… In November 2013 I wrote about Facebook’s decline, and whilst researching that piece, I read an article on Yahoo, and noted a few comments that neatly summed up Facebook’s problem – I’ve taken the liberty of editing them for space and clarity.  Here’s the first one: “The internet is stealing people’s lives….. I deleted my Facebook a while back for a bunch of reasons.  It just seems clichéd now, as does all social networking.  I don’t use my computer to feel like I have a life!”  Here’s another: “I recently opted out of Facebook because of the malicious comments made by posters. While it has some good points the bullying is out of control.”  And another: “Facebook needs to get serious about customer service as well as creating a product of service and substance, or it will face extinction the direction it is going in now.”  The resentment and anger being so forcefully expressed are palpable.  And one more comment: “The people I want to hear from have my phone number.”  In response to Yahoo’s article on Facebook not one person was positive, nor did anybody mention any of the presumed benefits of the service – indeed there were many comments I haven’t included because of the harsh language and profanities used.  This reminds me very much of comments I saw around the time MySpace declined as Facebook rose to supremacy.  It seems that such unforgiving and often abusive language is common amongst online commentators as there’s little generosity of spirit in an anonymous environment.  I know the Yahoo responses are an infinitesimal sample of qualitative research, but they do seem to demonstrate the currently prevailing concept that social networking is a time suck.  If you are not sure what that phrase means you can look it up here.  Ironically the first reference to the word “time suck” in the urban slang dictionary in 2009 cited Facebook as an example of how to use the phrase. When I give presentations and lectures I often remind my audience of the far-seeing wisdom of Herbert Simon, the Nobel Laureate.  At the dawn of the computer age, Simon was one of the first individuals to think comprehensively about people, organisations and systems for handling information.  In 1969 Simon wrote: "In an information- rich world, most of the cost of information is the cost incurred by the recipient.  It is not enough to know how much it costs to produce and transmit it; we must also know how much it costs, in terms of scarce attention, to receive it.”  If you are interested you can see the original draft that Simon wrote for this paper if you click here.  After eight or nine years of using social networks like Facebook, many people are beginning to find out for themselves what Simon understood over 44 years ago: that the greatest cost of using Facebook is their time.  In the same paper he also wrote “Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention…”   How prescient is that?  Today one rarely manages to receive the full attention of anyone between the ages of 14 and 40 years old.  Which brings me back to text messaging.  My wife and I recently mustered our three adult children (in their 30’s), who’ve all long since flown the nest and are scattered around the country, with their partners and our first grandchild, to a posh restaurant for a celebratory Christmas lunch.  Afterwards we all went back to our house for drinks.  Hardly had the coats been hung up and the baby been safely stowed than iPhones and Samsungs instantly appeared from bags and pockets and our Wi-Fi password was demanded.  Power sockets were promptly commandeered to charge low batteries, and there then commenced a feverish tap- tapping on touch screens as they all caught up with their WhatsApp  groups.  As the chart above demonstrates WhatsApp is the new Facebook in terms of consuming attention.  (Note that it is only in the U.S., the home of its birth, that Facebook is still the most used messaging app).  Apart from a periodically brief heads up to select their chosen tipples and to be topped up, our grown-up children and their best beloveds then proceeded to share most of our quality family time simultaneously engaged with WhatsApp as if they’d been incommunicado for months.  For the next couple of hours or so, they exchanged a constant stream of text messages and selfies via their smartphones with all their virtual “friends,” while my wife and I bemusedly witnessed the cacophony of pings, grunts, giggles, sound snippets and squeals.  Our chatty gambits were hardly noticed, and we received the occasional conversational phrase aimed in our direction like two neglected seals eager for a fishy titbit.   Comparing and commiserating with friends (in actuality) reassures us that we are not alone.  The data in the chart above (taken from research firm On Device’s Messenger Wars) illustrates that this failure to engage in the real world because of over-engagement in a virtual one is now a common global phenomena.  Another interesting finding from the same study is that in countries like Indonesia and South Africa, people have on average over four messaging apps installed on their phones. That’s nearly twice the number used in China and the U.S.  In fact Americans have the lowest number of messaging apps installed, usually only two (Facebook and WhatsApp) compared with the other three continents.   I believe this is one of the reasons behind Facebook’s failure in the global messaging market, and losing out in this area is going to be serious for the company, because messaging using text, images, sound or video is now the primary social networking activity.  On Device found that over 63% of worldwide smartphone users they questioned reported using social messaging at least 10 times per day. WhatsApp is successful because it provides a neat solution for the fragmented mobile Web.  The On Device survey found that people use social apps primarily to communicate with friends who are not on a compatible network or device.  In countries like Indonesia and South Africa there are more mobile phone choices, some of them older models, as the market is much more fragmented than in the U.S.  While the trend in the U.S. is for people to swap their Blackberry phones for either iPhones or Android smartphones, this is not happening to anywhere near the same extent in other countries.  So in Indonesia, for example, Blackberry phones are still popular (especially as they now sell for lower prices), and the second most visited brand page on Facebook is the Blackberry page.  And there are lots of old Nokia Symbian phones still in use.  This is obviously why people in Indonesia have installed twice the number of apps compared to the U.S.  Using WhatsApp solves the communication problems – acting like a communicating glue between Nokia, Symbian, Windows Phone, Blackberry, iPhone and Android.  As a bonus, and unlike Facebook, WhatsApp is advertising free.  Their business model is a modified “freemium,” where the app is free for the first year and after that there will be a nominal subscription charge of $0.99 per year.  Of course many people are still on their first “free” year, but when subscription time arrives the annual cost is so low that most users are unlikely to balk at making such a teeny payment to keep in contact with their friends.  Illogically Facebook is steadily increasing the number of advertisements fired at people, and starting to interrupt and irritate them with video ads.  In fact in its latest financial results earnings call Facebook said it intends to start feeding 15 second video ads every 20 or so messages… In June 2012 the two founders of WhatsApp posted an article titled “Why we don’t sell ads.”  It starts with an apocryphal quote from Tyler Durden in the movie Fight Club: “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”  This concept has caught the zeitgeist of the frightening economic situation which is reality for the majority of us.  In many ways Facebook is so pre-2008, not just due to its association with desktop computers, nor even with its using advertising to earn revenue, but because it’s trying to apply a digital lock-in.  This was captured accurately by one final comment from the Yahoo article I mentioned earlier: “Zuckerberg dreamed it be the only game in town. Not so.”  By unlocking Facebook’s digital padlock WhatsApp has enabled people to connect to a vastly bigger network than Facebook ever conceived.  Ironically, WhatsApp was produced by two people who between them spent 20 years working hard selling advertisements to keep Yahoo going.  They were astute and imaginative enough to realise the mobile Web isn’t suited to advertising and they have proved one can become a global player with as little as $8 million of funding. According to Ovum, the market for messaging apps will grow from 27.5 trillion messages in 2013 to 71.5 trillion messages by the end of 2014.  Ultimately all this is bad news for Facebook, and also for mobile phone networks.  Increased levels of social messaging means fewer phones will actually be used for talking synchronously person- to-person, resulting in a decimated voice-traffic revenue.  During 2014 Ovum expects mobile messaging apps like WhatsApp to bypass social media networks like Facebook and to emerge as digital platforms in their own right.   I agree, I haven’t previously observed such a powerful global trend where so many disparate people have so quickly coalesced around such a similar activity.  This is viral behaviour with a real network effect, and as messaging apps are low cost items, it’s happening at a much faster pace than the purchasing of smartphones.   On that basis my wife and I will be expecting even less attention from our WhatsApp-enabled offspring when we next see them… January 2014  
Click here to download the PowerPoint chart: Click here to download the PowerPoint chart: