30 December 2018

The silo-world of messaging apps

Messaging apps are convenient. Everybody agrees to that. It's easy to access notifications, easy to share files and it does not have the "formality" baggage that email comes with.

Yet, messaging apps have a fundamental flaw that services like email and SMS do not have: Universality.

With email and SMS, you can send messages between any service provider. However, you can't send messages between WhatsApp and Hangouts or WeChat or Telegram. A simple process of following a protocol like XMPP or creating a global standard that all messaging apps should have followed.

So now we are stuck in a world where we compulsorily have to install whatever app a group of people uses, even if we don't want to.

Indifference among people
Oddly, even though the objective of messaging apps is to bring people together, that's not what actually happens.
One of my classmates got in touch with few other classmates after sixteen years, via phone and email. He took initiative to get in touch with more classmates, and with two months of effort, he put many other classmates in touch with each other. Everyone was happy about the reunion. They asked him to create a WhatsApp group and he told them he doesn't use WhatsApp. So they created the group themselves and all of them joined the group, leaving him out. They just didn't care if he wasn't part of the group. To them, it was his fault that he doesn't use WhatsApp. Needless to say, when I saw this cold response from everyone, I refused to join the group too. I don't support people who don't give a damn about others.

Another group of classmates at another college decided to form a WhatsApp group for discussions with teachers and the teachers agreed to send them notifications about exam syllabus and other updates via the group. One classmate openly said he doesn't use WhatsApp and got heckled and mocked by his classmates. When the teachers shared lab exam dates or assignment presentation dates, the group would not share this information with "the social outcast". When he asked, they rudely told him that since he chose not to use WhatsApp, it was his responsibility to ask them for updates. Oddly, even though the teachers realized that what was going on was wrong, they eventually continued using WhatsApp instead of ensuring that all communication happened via email uniformly to all students. The social bullies had skillfully psychologically manipulated the teachers by providing them with circumstantial evidence and continued maligning the name of the "outcast" by means of a character assassination. What really went wrong here was that the teachers sourced opinions from the bullies and the gullible people who believed in the misinformation circulated by the bullies (much like the Stanford Prison Experiment). Everybody decided to make assumptions about the "outcast", making the crucial mistake of not talking to him about the matter.

Messaging apps only end up dividing people, when the app creator's objective is to create a tiny walled garden where everybody uses only their app.

I don't support social ostracization done in the name of forming messaging app groups. Apps are not the only way to communicate. In-fact, they are one of the worst ways.

What you can do

  • Tech identification: First, learn the science of identifying an appropriate communication medium. You can't use a messaging app to form a group of a diverse set of people, since many of them may not use apps. Use a more common medium like email. It's not convenience that matters here. It's uniform communication and participation. If you don't understand this, you don't have the maturity to form a group.
  • Talk to people: Ask everyone what they are comfortable with. If somebody is not very tech-savvy or does not use the tech y'all chose, either check if everyone else is ok with using the tech this person proposes or offer to keep the person informed always. It's your responsibility to keep the group united.
  • Prevent power misuse: It is said that if you want to test the character of a person, give them power and see what they do with it. When you give responsibility to someone for forming a group or for communicating crucial information, make sure it's given to a person of integrity and maturity. Other personality types can utilize their 'position of power' for personal vendetta or to pump up their ego. If you see a misuse of power, don't support the person, no matter how convincing they sound. 
  • Know the nature of communication: When there is an urgent piece of info to communicate, the ONLY reliable way to do it is to have a phone call. That's the only way you know the person has received the message. If you use email, SMS or a messaging app, don't assume that the other person has seen the message unless they respond with an "ok". Often, the response or read-receipt could be a result of somebody else looking at the message too. Do the phone call instead.

Hoping for an RFC that would be accepted universally. Messaging apps need the ability to talk to each other.

UPDATE: On the 30th of December 2018 I wrote to the WhatsApp team about creating a better messaging ecosystem, mentioned the incidents of bullying and asked if they could offer a messaging option that wouldn't require compulsorily installing the app on the phone. When I wrote to them in July 31st 2017, they replied saying that they had no plans of doing so, but to my December email, I received two updates until mid Jan 2019, stating that my communication was on hold and then I stopped receiving updates.
On 26th Jan I saw this in the newspaper:

Now that's a good move!