The Biggest Risk of Building a Business over Messaging Platforms

February 23, 2016

Do you really want to trust a messaging platform to be there tomorrow as well?

Building house of cards on top of Facebook?
Building house of cards on top of Facebook?

Facebook just killed Parse. A successful mobile BaaS platform they acquired in 2013. There’s a nice round up of feedback about it on Business Insider.

Inside the span of the same year, Facebook also announced the ability for businesses to integrate with its messaging platforms (both Messenger and WhatsApp).

It is funny somehow. The Business Insider article indicates Orbitz being one of Parse’ customers. I wonder how willing they will be to use another Facebook API to drive their messaging in front of their own users.

Here’s the thing. Messaging platforms are about messaging platforms. Most of them, don’t really care about the ecosystem of developers being built around them.

Twitter is famous for closing doors on developers. In 2012, it changed its rules around APIs, limiting access in a way that virtually killed any possibility to develop alternative Twitter clients.

What are we left with? The simple fact that relying on a single messaging platform and its API access for your service and business model is risky at best. Probably suicidal.

There’s a shift happening in the world. It started somewhere in the dot com bubble, morphing every couple of years:

  • Websites
  • Mobile Apps
  • Messaging

Websites was easy. With access to the internet, everyone could be doing anything. There were no real gatekeepers, besides Google and its search engine – but that’s a rather “soft” sort of a gatekeeper – you could succeed without it (ask Facebook or Twitter).

Then we started the great migration towards mobile and applications. We were left with two gatekeepers – Apple and Google. Apple with its inconsistent and somewhat puritan approval rules, and again Google. Now if you want to reach out to users, you go through these companies, who hold the keys to that kingdom.

Recently, it started changing, with a migration happening towards messaging apps. With billions of users interacting through messaging, these are turning into platforms of interaction – places where businesses, virtual assistants and bots can interact with the users of the platform.

The difference now, is that these messaging platforms have a lot more control over the users who end up using them – and by extension, over the enterprises who integrate with their service.

My suggestion?

If you need messaging in your service, build it your own unless “socializing” and communicating directly with specific social networks add some huge benefit to you. The risks are just too great to be worth it.

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  1. I don’t think you’re talking about adding messaging capabilities to your app, but building your service on top of a messaging platform. For instance, Orbitz building a “bot” to allow users to order travel packages from whatsapp/messenger.
    They are doing that not because they can’t add a chat interface to their app, but because EVERYONE is already IN whatsapp/messenger and pulling them away is HARD.
    There are great risks at relying on another platform, but also great reward. Especially if you are the first. And I think that for a service which is not dependent on these platforms, but manages to leverage them as an(other) interface, it makes perfect sense, and has more gain than risk.

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