The new (old) killer app

It’s not presence, it’s not click-to-call, it’s not VoIP (VoLTE ain’t gonna be it either), and it’s not video. It’s chat.

Seven years ago the term “unified communications” was synonymous with click-to-call and vendors large and small were obsessed with the fate of the PBX. Today it’s all about chat but not in the kind of workstation-centric chat of yore. The new (old) killer app is persistent chat that’s always on; it’s multimedia–yes, that’s the right word when you’re trying to say that it handles rich text, pictures, files, audio snippets, video clips, etc.–and it runs primarily on mobile devices and it’s all served from the cloud.

The interaction patterns of this new kind of chat are different too. SMS was all about short messages written in shorthand but augmented with composite emoticons. Now that we all have smart phones with intelligent keyboards chat is conversational, expressive and animated with Emojis, GIFs and short videos. Moreover, one-to-one conversations are relatively rare as group chat is quickly becoming the norm.

This new conversational model is spawning a new generation of collaborative applications where social interactions as well as real-time communication channels are available to users in-context. Everything revolves around the conversation record. Some call it “activity stream”, others call it “chat transcript” but the model is the same: a long-running conversation on a system of record. Some integrate with email, some proudly claim you won’t need email once you make the move. It’s social but no one is calling it social. It’s real-time but no one is calling it chat.

Established vendors are seeing the field getting crowded pretty quickly with new players that are showing significant muscle early in the game. Most are startups but there are also important niche players jumping in and that makes the whole thing exciting.

This is what communication-enabled business processes (CEBP) looks like when people use it for daily work. This is what the convergence of UC, social, cloud and mobility looks like in the real world. We must give thanks to IRC and ICQ for paving the way and embrace the new (old) killer app.