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Facebook’s slimmed down Messenger shows market is beefing up

Messenger Lite

Facebook is the latest player to announce product updates, as the messenger sector stakes its claim as the newest digital battleground.

Over the course of the last few weeks, we’ve seen Google launch Allo’, Twitter become the centre of the most recent acquisition chat and German regulators attempting to stamp authority on the messaging sector. Now Facebook has weighed in with the launch of Messenger Lite highlighting how competitive the messaging market has become in what looks like a direct response to Allo.

The new app itself is almost the same as the current Messenger app, but with the bells and whistles. It still offers the core features (messaging, sending and receiving photos and links, and receiving stickers), but is under 10 MB, less demanding on data and is more reliable in areas where the underlying infrastructure is less advanced, the team claims. The app is primarily designed for less advanced nations and will be rolled out it Kenya, Tunisia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Venezuela.

The launch of such an offering should not come as a huge surprise as ‘connecting the world’, most notably the third world nations, is one of Facebook’s prominent marketing messages. The move is all well and good, but represents only a short-term solution for the connectivity challenges in the countries mentioned above, so let’s not congratulate Facebook too much.

While it’s a good PR move,the underlying problem of under investment in infrastructure has not been addressed. Connectivity is still inconsistent, unreliable and fragile. Until direct investments are made in upgrading the network itself, any move made by the OTT’s or the telcos is going to be nothing more than papering over the cracks.

But the update does highlight the messenger sector is certainly hotting up.

WeChat has also made a product update but seemingly gone the opposite direction to Facebook. The WeChat team are testing ‘little program’ which will allow commercial partners to build apps within the messaging app, removing the need for links to external websites.

The move certainly improves the commercial prospects for the platform however it will likely increase the data and storage demands of the app. While Facebook is putting its app on the Atkins diet, WeChat has purchased a season-ticket to an all-you-can-eat Pizza Hut buffet.

The Facebook update is a move for developing nations in Africa, South America and South East Asia; one conclusion which could be drawn from the WeChat move is the team doesn’t care about the emerging markets. WeChat operates in China where it almost has exclusivity as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Google are all banned. That’s a potential market of over 1.3 billion people, with a fast growing digital community and an increasingly wealthy middle-class. Prospects in its domestic market are what most would call positive.

Elsewhere in the industry, ‘secure’ messaging service Signal has been making some promising moves. Signal uses standard cellular mobile numbers as identifiers and end-to-end encryption to secure all communications to other Signal users; its putting forward the case to be the messaging platform for the security conscious consumer; a fast-growing demographic worldwide. Security is one of the hot topics in the messaging sector with data protection one of the focal points of the new European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Within the GDPR, transparency is required with clear and plain language in terms and conditions. Companies will no longer be able to hide behind pre-ticked boxes or inactivity to claim consent, as consent will need to be claimed by affirmative action. Consumers will also have the right to request to know what information is being held on them, and also consumer cannot be forced to give consent for further use of data when signing up to a service.

Whenever regulation becomes the topic of conversation the Germans always seem to be lurking nearby. Only last week the Germans weighed into the Facebook/WhatsApp data sharing saga, officially banning the practise, and also ordering Facebook to delete all data collected prior to the ban. This could be a significant blow for Facebook’s efforts to monetize the $19 billion WhatsApp acquisition.

Losing the German market is not the end of the world, but the ripples could be significant. Alongside France and the soon-to-be-exiled UK, the Germans are one of the leading voices in the European Union. What impact will the ban have on European-wide regulation set forward by the Union? Only time will tell whether this ban will spread throughout Europe, though considering Germany has one of the loudest voices in Europe, it is a slightly ominous sign.

While there is still a lot of jostling, upgrading and posturing for the moment, it is clear the messaging sector is going to be a battle ground for digital supremacy. Facebook has stolen a charge on the emerging markets (possibly mainly due to the WhatsApp acquisition), WeChat is dominant in the Chinese market, the western markets are all a bit competitive, Google’s Allo’ is leaning on the laziness of the millennials, Snapchat is diversifying its offering and who knows what the future holds for the soon-to-be-acquired Twitter.

With the cash-conscious, connectivity-hungry and security-sensitive consumer becoming ever more demanding in the digital era, the OTT market could be decided by the smallest of factors. Investment in infrastructure in the third world market is still drastically short, which could come back to bite the western brands in the coming years.


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