This won’t come as any surprise to many of you in the mobile space but it seems as though group chat is back in – this time on your phone. Just like the old web days, companies are flocking to enable group conversations on the most logic of platforms and it seems people are buying into it.
More specifically, Facebook is buying into it by picking up the three-person team from Beluga.
I’m pretty sure this is a sign of things to come as it would seem to me that chat as a business is, well, not a business but a piece of a bigger business. The acquisition of Beluga is a perfect fit simply because Facebook can take that product and put it into the hands of the over 250 million people that use Facebook from a mobile device. Beluga goes from a niche product to the largest group messaging platform in mobile overnight.
Other group messaging applications are out there and by all means doing quite well. The most noteworthy is the cross-platform BlackBerry Messenger clone KiK who may have kicked off this whole craze when they went from zero to 2 million users in a few days. They are still embroiled in a lawsuit evoked by RIM but the fact their product flew off the shelfs was enough to prove people are interested in this type of service.
I would have thought that KiK was a perfect acquisition for RIM. Instead of suing them they could have embraced the technology and built a cross-platform BBM allowing their PlayBook to talk to their BlackBerrys. Group messaging was once a competitive advantage (at least RIM thought it was) but now, with all these other players in the game it is a commodity in need of a revenue model.
So how do these guys make money? Anyone? Both Fast Society and GroupMe have each raised over $10 million to help build out their platforms – surely the investors are looking for suitors for both these companies. You can’t really jam the apps up with banner ads and you need to keep the spammers out. So the real opportunities lie in complementing someone else’s product – just like the Facebook/Beluga relationship.
I had a great chat with Caleb Elston – CEO and co-founder of Yobongo, another group messaging mobile application. This one is interesting because of the open nature of the rooms – you don’t need to be friends with anyone to chat with them. You just log on to the app and start talking. My feeling is that this fits really well with the open nature that Google exudes and would do really well as a complement to their offerings – they could incorporate it right into mobile Gmail, the mobile version of Google Docs for tablet collaboration or even just into their Google app.
Location based service Foursquare should also be looking at one of these solutions as the checkin becomes old hat. Something like Fast Society could fit nicely into their offering and could elevate the product usage (read: stickiness) as well as increase pure user numbers. Think about that combination at a conference like SXSW.
2011 should be the year we see this type of service swell and consolidate and then explode in usage.
What do you think?
*** Photo By Dieter Drescher ***