CIO Perspective
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CIO Perspective
$19B vs. $x? A Mobile Messenger Gone Astray?
Feb 25, 2014

blackberry.JPGWith the recent headlines that Facebook would purchase WhatsApp for $19B, I started wondering what happened to BlackBerry Messenger (BBM).


About 4 years ago, BBM was a popular and secure chat platform; so secure that Enterprise IT departments loved it. BBM was an enterprise-grade app that was actually consumer friendly (in the BB world, enterprise-grade and consumer were two words that were not paired together on a regular basis). Kids quickly figured out that with BBM they could save money on text messaging, especially international. My son used to want a BlackBerry just so he could use BBM.


And yet given this functionality and security, it seems that BBM “kind of” disappeared. When compared to other messaging tools, BBM did not become mainstream. When you look at what Facebook was willing to spend to acquire WhatsApp, what do you think BBM might be worth today? Anything?


Here is my speculation on what happened to BBM, but I am curious what you think too.


1. The BBM software could not be unbundled from the hardware. BBM worked only on a BB with the idea that this software would further increase the stickiness of the hardware. Instead of setting BBM free of the device, Blackberry delayed porting BBM over to iOS and Android.  As BB Halo usage declined, adoption of BBM declined. And as we know, valuation is all about subscription. For me, most of my non-US friends were not on BBM, so I was forced to switch to the new messaging standard...WhatsApp. whatsapp.JPG


2.  Very functional but never cool. From what I’ve observed, device makers have found it difficult to write elegant software and/or brand it well. With a few notable exceptions of course….


3. Slow to roll out new features. Not very slow. ...but perhaps 6 months too slow.  And because the rate of change is so fast in technology, 6 months can equate to a decade. Today BBM has even more features than WhatsApp, including video and voice calling, and stickers, bolder than emoticons. BBM runs on multiple platforms, including iOS and Android, and soon Windows Phones, but I believe this is a case of too little, too late.


4. A strong heritage in enterprise automatically doesn’t translate to consumers. Let me put it this way: the best way to kill my son’s interest in a particular song or musician is for me to start listening to the same music. And because of this BB enterprise heritage, there are the unavoidable standards and occasional mandates. On the contrary, consumers want choice----or at least the illusion of a choice. [As a side note, a peer of mine joked that he could probably stop WhatsApp usage in his company by making it the enterprise messaging standard and demand employees to solely use it.]


5. Social is fun. Enterprise is boring. I am bombarded with communications all day: phone calls, video calls, and the never-ending stream of emails from co-workers. Adding to that, I get text messages asking for instant replies to unread email messages. And going full circle, my voicemail is full of follow ups to the text messages.  My work colleagues want to be my friends on Facebook. What part of “I don't need more ways to be pinged” do they not understand?


Our personal and work lives are getting so blurred, that we have to find new sandboxes to play in to unleash the child in each of us, and find a pause in the day to "regenerate".  The latest for me is WhatsApp. But once my work colleagues find that I am there (which will be after I hit the submit button of this blog), I have to find another sandbox. A sandbox where I can meet real friends, real family, relax. BBM used to be for work and colleagues, WhatsApp is for fun and friends. At least until now.