Facebook and others think messaging as a platform is the next big thing. Are they right?

As investors in the mobile ecosystem, we are constantly working to better understand and predict how the unique aspects of the mobile computing platform will allow entrepreneurs to build new and lasting businesses across industries.  Inspired by recent industry developments and conversations we’ve been having with friends and founders creating mobile-first services, we decided to open source more of our conversations and create a forum to surface different perspectives on mobile related issues that have relevance across a range of categories.

Our intent is to share opinions and practical advice around what’s working as well as what’s not. We’d love for more folks to join the discussion as our hope is that this process will accelerate our collective knowledge. Look for a mix of industry commentary, metrics and analysis, guest posts and quick takes in this vein (like this perspective on Gboard from my partner Jamie Davidson).

Lately we’ve been awash in the messaging-as-a-platform discussions as all the major players are coming out with messaging + AI plays.  Last week Google announced Allo as a kind of new smart messaging app. Facebook’s F8 messaging news had already been top of mind as both a source of promise and a painful reminder of how challenging the current app discovery and distribution structure really is.  Could messaging bots become a new distribution channel for app providers?  The people we’ve surveyed are intrigued but skeptical.  Intrigued for the obvious reason that everyone is looking for another way to reach consumers where they’re spending time.  But skeptical based on the applicability of the chat-based interface for the full range of apps, and the inevitability of the same discovery challenges if the model gains awareness and traction.

One app whose approach to distribution and engagement could inform us more broadly is Riffsy (also a Redpoint portfolio company). At the recent Mobile Apps Unlocked conference (an awesome event organized by Grow.co founders Adam Lovallo and Jay Weintraub) I did an onstage interview with Rffsy founder and CEO David McIntosh where we talked about Riffsy’s approach to leveraging messaging as a platform.  David told the congregation of mobile app thinkers that making Riffsy available across multiple messaging platforms was key to achieving scale and encouraging repeat users. Riffsy works well on iOS, Kik, Twitter, and Facebook Messenger among others.  Its user base has shared tens of billions of GIFs across multiple mobile messaging platforms – no small feat given the challenges of platform fragmentation.  App makers here in the U.S. can’t borrow from the Tencent playbook where the WeChat platform dominates the messaging app landscape and serves as the de facto portal for 3rd party applications.  But I’d argue that makes the whole landscape more interesting – and an area we think is still in its early stages here in the U.S.

Will messenger as a platform be a THING? And what does that portend for all the platforms and app makers competing for our attention as well as the mobile ecosystem at large?  As we’re actively exploring other ideas to tackle the problem of getting and keeping people’s attention in this crowded mobile landscape, we’re taking a fresh look at the app as we know it.  The time is right for new ideas about messaging as a platform and how we can build an effective distribution and engagement model for mobile content and services.