Schlagwort-Archive: Messaging

The tyranny of messaging and notifications

Welcome to Mossberg, a weekly commentary and reviews column on The Verge and Recode by veteran tech journalist Walt Mossberg, now an Executive Editor at The Verge and Editor at Large of Recode.

Up until just a few years ago, I got around 350 emails a day, which presented me with an exhausting, time-consuming daily task that I grumbled about plenty. Now, because of social media and messaging services, that number has been cut by more than half. But things are actually worse.

These days, messages come at me from so many directions that it’s incredibly distracting and even harder to deal with. Friends, co-workers, business acquaintances and strangers contact me on multiple siloed services, which can signal subtle shades of immediacy or weight. And when I have to reach someone with something important and time-sensitive, I often wind up resorting to two or more similar but independent pathways, because I’m never sure which one will be likelier to work, since he or she is under a similar assault.

And then there are the notifications, ever-present on every operating system on every device. Sure, you can fine tune or even silence them with some work (more on that later), but most people don’t, or don’t know how, or feel they don’t dare. Notifications are supposed to save you time, but often they wind up doing the opposite.

Many mornings, it’s common for the lock screen of my iPhone and the right-hand side of my Mac’s screen to be jammed with notifications about „news“ I don’t care about, messages whose relevance has come and gone overnight, tips on birthdays of people I’m not close to, reminders of meetings I’m not attending, and warnings of traffic tie-ups on roads I don’t use. The signal-to-noise ratio is very poor, and gets only marginally better during the work day.

The confusion will only grow

And this weird, mixed-up communications structure is about to get more complex, because U.S. tech companies — following a strong trend in Asia — are turning messaging from a service into a platform, with supposedly intelligent bots and assistants and apps built into them. Apple is beefing up iMessage. Facebook is beefing up Messenger. Google, which has been behind in messaging, is launching two new platforms: Allo for text and images and emojis, and Duo for videos.

Maybe these bots and assistants and apps will be a means to controlling and focusing your messaging and communications, but that would be a hard, tricky job. More likely, I fear, they will just spew more messages and notifications they think — wrongly — you care about.

Alongside the race for consumer loyalty among these giants, there’s a parallel race to become the new-style internal messaging system for companies. In the lead so far is Slack, an unthreaded, sometimes chaotic series of chat rooms which my employer, Vox Media, uses, and which claims to be the fastest-growing business application on the market. Microsoft and others are trying to catch up. Slack is just another thing you have to keep up with.

I don’t know about you, but I expect to be pretty cautious about committing to Google’s new Allo service, once I’ve tried it out. Other new services inspire similar caution. All due respect to the smart folks at Google, but I’m just not sure I can handle yet another messaging service in my life.

Stop! Attention thief!

Sometimes, I yearn for the old days of email dominance (I can’t believe I typed those words). Why? Because despite the spam, you could be pretty sure you were good if you just checked it a few times a day, since most people used it as their primary means of written communication and they usually didn’t expect an immediate response.

A text, or short internet message, on the other hand, seems to demand instant attention, and may even lead to a whole thread of conversation. This can sometimes be delightful or enlightening, but it takes you away from the moment — from your thinking, reading, working. It steals your attention at a time of the sender’s choosing.

Even social network posts can act like this. You might be succeeding — for a while at least — in staying away from Facebook or Twitter while you work on a project or think through a problem. But then somebody acts on one of your posts, or even on a post you merely commented on, and boom! There’s a notification nagging at you. This happened to me as I was writing this column, because I forgot to kill notifications for awhile.

And, of course, a tweet or Facebook post can spawn a whole, sometimes heated, conversation that’s hard to ignore, even if you’re not browsing your whole feed for news or amusing GIFs.

The rabbit holes are everywhere, and it’s too easy to fall down them.

Dumb and dumber

One reason for the messaging overload, especially when it comes to notifications, is that too many apps just have no idea what’s relevant to you, or don’t care. For instance, I signed up for a local text alert service to get notified of things like dangerous storms on the way or bad road conditions, But I’m on the verge of shutting it off because it floods me with texts about anything worse than a fender bender on roads I never travel. It knows nothing about my driving habits and offers no way to teach it. Then, it compounds the distraction by texting me again when the irrelevant traffic tie-up is cleared.

Starbucks notifies me when I’m near one of its branches where I buy a lot of coffee. But the notification remains on my Apple Watch long after I’ve left the vicinity of that store. CVS notifies me of sales, when I really don’t care and I only wanted to know if my prescription is ready.

And to make some of these apps smarter, I might have to give up more of my personal information, which is a dangerous balance — especially when dozens of these apps start asking for it.

The big solution?

It would be nice if, like most email services, these major and forthcoming messaging services could somehow interoperate in the same client of your choice, so they could all somehow learn your preferences and you could use a single scheme of settings and preferences to control their behavior (maybe you could „snooze“ them) and their notifications. But that seems highly unlikely.  Palm’s webOS operating system had a feature something like this called Synergy, but it’s defunct.

So the big fix to this is probably up to the makers of the operating system platforms. They permit and control the notifications, at the least. They could create more and better user tailoring and learning that could be shared by all messaging services. But the problem, of course, is that the two big mobile OS makers, Apple and Google, are also deeply enmeshed in the messaging wars.

The small, available solution

So, what can you do? Well, you can be like me and vow to stick with one or two messaging services, turn off all notifications when need be, and, at times, when it really matters, put your mobile devices into airplane mode for an hour here and there, even on the ground.

Or, you could carefully tweak your notifications on iOS and Android. For instance, if you have an iPhone, you could open your Notification settings and go through the long list of apps you own, decide if you want notifications from each, and then, if so, what types of notification (sounds? lock screen snippets? A badge? one of two types of banners?)

And then, you could dive into the preferences on Facebook and Twitter, and quiet the notifications that stem from threads in which you are involved.

This might do the trick, but, if you’re a power user, it’s a daunting task. It’s like that vow you make, but never keep, to devote a bunch of time to paring down your list of Facebook friends.

A shorter, simpler list of steps outlined here should help.

But none of the excitement and energy around messaging as a new platform will go anywhere if managing the flow of messages is more trouble than they’re actually worth.

http://www.theverge.com/2016/7/6/12102874/walt-mossberg-messaging-notifications

The Evolution of Messengers at Google

Google has announced three new communication apps this week: Spaces, Allo and Duo. That’s in addition to the three it already has. To understand why it’s doing this, and why it’ll do it again, we only need to look to its past.

Twelve years ago, Google began its shift from being „just“ the world’s most popular search engine to something much more: It released Gmail. Soon, the company was offering several options for communication. By 2009 Google users had a pretty robust set of tools at their disposal. Gmail for email, Talk for real-time text and voice chats, Voice for VoIP calling, and Android to facilitate everything else. Unfortunately, this simple delineation would quickly disappear as the company launched more and more services.

Google Wave was the first addition. Announced in mid-2009, it mashed together elements of bulletin boards, instant messaging and collaborative editing to pretty awesome effect. It grew a small but fervent community — I was a big fan — until Google halted development.

Then came Buzz. Launched in 2010, it was Google’s first attempt at a bona fide social network. It failed miserably, not least due to complaints about the way Google forced it upon users and some valid privacy concerns. Although neither Wave nor Buzz really competed with what the company was already offering, that would change when Google launched its next attempt at a social network, Google+.

In addition to standard social networking, Google+ also had two features that facilitated direct communication with individuals and groups: Hangouts and Huddles. Not to be mistaken with the current app, Hangouts at the time offered multiuser video chat for people in the same Circle. Huddle, on the other hand, was an instant messaging app for talking with other Google+ users.

Huddle would soon become Google+ Messenger, offering the same functionality as Google Talk, while Hangouts would expand to seriously encroach on Google Voice. Within a year, Google had added the ability to make „audio-only“ calls by inviting users to join Hangouts over a regular phone line.

Google now had two apps for everything, coupled with the problem that many users — even on its Android platform — were still using SMS to communicate on the go. It began work to rectify this and unify its disparate platforms. In 2013 we got an all-new Hangouts, available cross-platform and on the web. It merged the functionality of Hangouts and Messenger, and it also replaced Talk within Gmail if you opted to upgrade. Voice was still out in the cold and SMS wasn’t integrated, but the company was moving in the right direction.

In late 2013, Google added SMS to Hangouts, and in Android 4.4 it replaced Messaging as the OS default for texting. By Oct. 2014 Google had integrated VoIP into Hangouts as well. It finally had one app for everything.

You could assert that Hangouts was a better app because of the confusing mess that preceded it. Google tried lots of things and put the best elements from all of its offerings into a single app.

That arguably should have been the end of the story, but it’s not. For whatever reason — probably because it figured out that a lot of Android users didn’t use Hangouts — Google released another app in Nov. 2014 called Messenger. This Messenger had nothing to do with Google+ but instead was a simple app focused on SMS and MMS. Hangouts could and can still handle your texts, but Messenger is now standard on Nexus phones and can be installed on any Android phone from the Play Store. This confusing muddle means that if you have, say, a new flagship Samsung phone, you’ll have two apps capable of handling your SMS (Samsung’s app and Hangouts), with the possibility of adding a third with Messenger.

Hangouts, for the most part, has been doing a fine job.

Still, SMS isn’t exactly a burning priority for most people, and Hangouts, for the most part, has been doing a fine job. I can’t say I use it that often — my conversations are mostly through Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, because that’s where my friends are — but when I do, it’s a pleasant-enough experience. The same can be said for Google+: It’s actually a great social network now, aside from the fact that barely anyone uses it.

That’s the issue that Google faces today and the reason why these new apps exist. More people are using Facebook Messenger than Hangouts. More people are using WhatsApp than Hangouts. More people are using Snapchat than Hangouts. And everyone uses everything other than Google+.

So we now have three new apps from Google, each performing pretty different tasks. The first is Spaces. Think of it as Google+ redux redux redux. It takes the service’s fresh focus on communities and collections and puts it into an app that exists outside the social network. The end result is a mashup of Slack, Pinterest, Facebook Groups and Trello. It’s promising, but, as of writing, it’s very much a work in progress.

Next up is Allo, a reaction to Facebook Messenger and Microsoft’s efforts in the chatbot space. It uses machine learning to streamline conversations with auto replies and also offers a virtual assistant that’ll book restaurants for you, answer questions and do other chatbotty things. Just like Spaces exists outside Google+, Allo exists outside Hangouts. You don’t even need a Google account to sign up, just a phone number — much like how WhatsApp doesn’t require a Facebook account.

Finally we have Duo, which is by far the most focused of the three. It basically duplicates Hangouts‘ original function: video calling. According to the PR, it makes mobile video calls „fast“ and „simple,“ and it’s only going to be available on Android and iOS. Both Duo and Allo also have the distinction of offering end-to-end encryption — although Allo doesn’t do so by default — the absence of which has been something privacy advocates have hated about Hangouts.

This summer, when Duo and Allo become available, Google users will be at another confusing impasse. Want to send a message to a friend? Pick from Hangouts, Allo or Messenger. Want to make a video call? Hangouts or Duo. Group chat? Hangouts, Allo or Spaces. It’s not user-friendly, and it’s not sustainable.

Sure, Facebook sustains two chat services (WhatsApp and its own Messenger) just fine, but it bought WhatsApp as a fully independent, hugely popular app and has barely changed a thing. Google doesn’t have that luxury. Instead, it’ll borrow another Facebook play: Test new features on a small audience and integrate. Over the past couple of years Facebook has released Slingshot, Rooms, Paper, Riff, Strobe, Shout, Selfied and Moments. I’m probably missing a few.

All of these apps were essentially built around a single feature: private chats, ephemeral messaging, a prettier news feed, selfies, etc. The vast majority won’t get traction on their own, but their features might prove useful enough to fold into the main Facebook and Messenger apps. And if one of them takes off, no problem, you’ve got another successful app.

This has to be Google’s strategy for Allo, Duo and Spaces. We don’t know what Google’s communication offerings will look like at the end of this year, let alone 2017. But chances are that Google will continue to float new ideas before eventually merging the best of them into a single, coherent application, as it did with Hangouts. And then it’ll start the process again. In the meantime, Google will spend money developing x number of duplicate apps, and users will have to deal with a confusing mess of applications on their home screens.

 

http://www.engadget.com/2016/05/19/why-google-cant-stop-making-messaging-apps/

Is Your Messaging App Encrypted?

Is Your Messaging App Encrypted?

messaging-apps-whatsapp

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

https://recode.net/2015/12/21/is-your-messaging-app-encrypted