Yesterday, as a joke, I sent Josh Kopelman the kind of text that would probably make him cringe if I had sent it by e-mail. (No, it wasn't a pic of any kind--just a joke.)
Knowing Josh, he still probably cringed, but he cringed a little bit less because we were both using Confide--a sort of Snapchat for professionals. There's no lasting record of me ever having sent that note and he only got to look at it once before it disappeared.
There are a whole bunch of questions around the concept, but it does feel very relevant. Just last week, Chris Christie seems to have cost himself a shot at 2016 because of his staff's retaliatory #trafficgate e-mails. Had it been sent with an app like Confide, Christie could have caused all the traffic pileups he wanted without leaving a trace.
Confide brings up a lot of thoughtful questions worth thinking about.
Will the company leverage its press momentum and download pace to raise a bunch of money at a ridiculous valuation before we really know anything about it's uptake and stickiness?
That was easy.
Seriously, though... What are the chances of success for a company like this?
Privacy, or more specifically, ephemerality, is an interesting place to start--but I don't see it as a way to gain mass adoption. Most people just don't see the chance of private conversations being made public as a big risk--whether that's a careless approach or not. We've had business e-mail for twenty plus years and there hasn't been a secure e-mail system that has gained traction yet, despite people getting caught writing damning e-mails time and time again. Sure, we have e-mail retention policies, but that isn't really solving the problem. If someone wants to bring up a job discrimination lawsuit, they usually do it well within the e-mail deletion period and so this isn't really solving the problem.
Is there a subset of people who would use this to have affairs and do illicit things? Perhaps--but if you believe that most people are fundamentally good and don't have stuff to hide, there's not a big market here.
Then again, Ashley Madison, the site for cheating people, does supposedly have 22 million members, so at $5/month, maybe that's the market they should go after.
Except, that Snapchat does that for free.
So back to "professionals" we go. What would a service like this need to get usage among lots of professionals?
My sense is that there is, in fact, an opportunity in the "professional" messaging market. A few weeks ago, I talked to someone about the idea of "LinkedIn Messenger"--a way for me to instantly communicate with professional contacts that went outside of the black hole that is e-mail.
If I meet someone at a conference where I want to connect with them to see if they're free for lunch, how do I tell them where I'm sitting? I'd rather not give them my number.
I'd say the two most successful products in the enterprise messaging space were Blackberry Messenger, or BBM, and Bloomberg Instant. (Side note... "professional" (vs. enterprise) is kind of an interesting newish catagory a la the consumerization of the enterprise). If you worked in finance and had a Bloomberg terminal on your desk, you used their messenger product to connect and chat with other professionals. It was like being in an exclusive club of industry folks--What's App for people with money. People would chat on that product all day.
Lots of those same folks had Blackberry phones, and BBM was the most popular and loved thing RIM ever created this side of a physical keyboard. Even socially, if you met someone in the industry at a bar, they'd give you their BBM PIN before they gave you their number.
That's key--both of these services gave people a bit of control over their inboxes. With BBM, you couldn't get someone's PIN unless they give it to you and with Bloomberg's terminal messenger, it was a seperate inbox. Even if someone found you and messaged you, it didn't clog up your regular e-mail inbox. It didn't feel invasive.
These days, that leaves a bit of a hole--one that I thought at one time that Twitter's messaging capabilities would solve. Back when I e-mailed Fred Wilson about Twitter in March '07, one of the things I was most intrigued by was the ability to let people reach you by phone with a message, without giving them your phone number--a control layer on top of mobile messaging. I'm still a prolific DM user, even though the feature is obviously the bastard stepchild of the product. I'm the exception. To this day, there's no go to way for professionals to instantly connect with short messages. Half the time, I DM people only to realize they don't really check it.
Who else does this?
AIM is pretty much dead.
Gtalk/Gchat is a confused product offering at best, awkwardly tying e-mail to chat with hard to find apps.
Not everyone is on iMessage because it's iOS only.
Blackberry waited far too long to bring BBM to other platforms.
Hipchat and Yammer are internal, leaving no way for me to give someone on the outside of my company a way to contact me.
So, really, before you even ask whether or not professionals need a secure messaging app, I'd suggest someone go about solving the professional messaging problem to start--and make secure messaging a feature.
LinkedIn is probably in the best position to do this, although I wouldn't count out Blackberry. I mean, if you just started out today and you could either be Confide, or BBM, and you could add secure messaging to BBM, who would you rather be? There's still an installed base there, a good brand. Unfortunately, being tied to the sinking brick that is RIM may be too much for BBM to escape from.
LinkedIn's problem is that the social graph I added to LinkedIn.com is probably not the social graph of people I want messaging me--so they'd have to use their network as a channel, but the would need to allow users to create tighter circles. That was the Facebook Places problem. With Foursquare, you knew what being friends meant. When Facebook asked me to checkin to a place, I had to rethink whether I really wanted all of these people I went to elementary school with or my family knowing where I was all the time. If you create a network you have to be clear what adding people to that network means. Still, even if LinkedIn just used its reach as a channel, it could be a professional mobile messaging juggernaut.
Maybe they buy Confide--because watching them develop new internal products is like watching paint dry. Their products are awesome, but there doesn't seem to be a skunkworks over there ready to jump on bandwagons.
If Confide is going to gain mainstream professional adoption, I think it actually needs to move away from the secure use case and branding. The branding is too suspicious. Would you want your significant other to have the Confide app on their phone? Who are they secretly messaging and why? Rather, I'd make the messaging and the brand a lot more mainstream and just use the security as a killer feature. This isn't an area where I see a bunch of secretive driving mainstream adoption--not when it looks gray to even admit that you have it and use it.
In my mind, professional messaging is a huge opportunity--and it's not likely that any of the existing players are going to get it right, but I don't think being Snapchat-like is the narrow point of the wedge.