Posts tagged Messaging

Your Messaging App Probably Isn’t As Secure As You Think

More than a few messaging apps aren’t doing everything they can to keep your nude photos from leaking on to the Internet or The Man from eavesdropping on your personal conversations, the Electronic Frontier Foundation reports.

In fact, after  evaluating three dozen communication tools for its new Secure Messaging Scorecard, the EFF found that there there are only a handful of truly secure messaging apps. And odds are good that most people aren’t using them. 

You might not be familiar with the top scorers, which include ChatSecure, CryptoCat, Signal/Redphone, Silent Phone, Silent Text, and TextSecure. These are the six apps that met the EFF’s seven-point criteria for secure messaging:

  1. Messages are encrypted in transit
  2. Messages are encrypted so the service provider can’t read them
  3. Contacts’ identities can be verified
  4. Past communications are secure if keys are stolen
  5. Code is open to independent review
  6. Security design is properly documented
  7. The code has been audited

Apple’s iMessage and FaceTime products stood out as the best of the mass-market options, although neither currently provides complete protection against sophisticated, targeted forms of surveillance. Many options—including Google, Facebook, and Apple’s email products, Yahoo’s web and mobile chat, Secret, and WhatsApp—lack the end-to-end encryption that is necessary to protect against disclosure by the service provider. Several major messaging platforms, like QQ, Mxit and the desktop version of Yahoo Messenger, have no encryption at all.

Apple’s iMessage and FaceTime did best among mainstream apps, “although neither currently provides complete protection against sophisticated, targeted forms of surveillance,” the EFF said in a statement

If you’re looking to keep your service provider out of your communications, forget about Secret, SnapChat and WhatsApp, as well as Apple, Google and Facebook’s email services and Yahoo’s mobile and Web chat. None offer end-to-end encryption necessary to keep your conversations from being accessed by the company sending them. 

Of course, it could be worse. According to the EFF,  QQ, Mxit and the desktop version of Yahoo Messenger, “have no encryption at all.”

Lead illustration courtesy of Shutterstock

 

 

 

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Why There Are So Many New Kinds Of Messaging Apps

This is the last part of ReadWrite’s four-part series on the future of messaging. Follow our ongoing coverage of messaging.

When text messaging first spread, we got 160-character texts. Then multimedia messaging added photos to the mix—if you were lucky and your carrier supported it.

The skyrocketing popularity of messaging apps around the world signals a shift in the way we communicate. Now we can share more than a simple thought rendered in text. We can share cartoon characters, disappearing selfies, our current location—even our phone’s battery life. The new Apple Watch’s forthcoming messaging app has us imagine a world where we tell our loved ones we’re alive in a literal yet visceral way—by sharing our heartbeat.

The variety of messaging apps makes it hard to pick just one and stick to it. Just look at how teens have jumped from Twitter and Facebook to Instagram to Snapchat.

With jaw-dropping amounts of money being ponied up by investors and acquirers—like Facebook spending $19 billion on WhatsApp—entrepreneurs are racing to get ahead of the next big trend, with the hopes of amassing users and then big paychecks. 

The Next Big Thing will likely not be one messaging app, but many. Developers have begun to shift from do-it-all messengers with every imaginable feature to apps that embrace simplicity—and do just one kind of communication very well.

A Messenger’s First Job: Replacing Texts

Messaging stalwarts like WhatsApp and WeChat took traditional messaging features from SMS, the wireless-carrier standard for text messaging, and expanded on them to provide users with a way to communicate while avoiding texting fees.

SMS is unlikely to go away soon, but it lacks many key features. That’s what prompts so many users to seek out apps to replace it. The 160-character limit of standard SMS is just one example of its limitations.

See Also: The 10 Most Popular Mobile Messaging Apps In The World

In most parts of the world, texting is expensive. The unlimited-texting plans available in the US are relatively uncommon elsewhere. International texting is particularly pricey. So apps like WhatsApp take advantage of data plans and Wi-Fi connections to take regular texting and make it cheaper.

Especially in global markets, such apps have skyrocketed in popularity. As ReadWrite reported earlier this year, your geographic location might dictate which apps you use. In Asia, WeChat, Line and KakaoTalk are among the most popular, whereas in North America it’s WhatsApp and Kik.

Disappearing Messages Are Here To Stay

Snapchat is largely credited with kicking off the disappearing messages trend, but it’s not the only app out there. As soon as Snapchat exploded on the scene, Internet players both small and large—including Facebook—fell over themselves to replicate the features that drove Snapchat’s growth.

Messages are now disappearing everywhere, and even if they don’t technically disappear on Snapchat, people are still increasingly expecting an option for messaging that won’t go down on their permanent records. The incidents of celebrity’s iCloud accounts getting hacked is just another reason consumers want their selfies to disappear. Whether it’s a selfie on Snapchat or a secure document on Wickr, sending and receiving messages that don’t stick around have become a central part of the way people communicate.

The Yo Effect

Yo was created as an easy way for a man to contact his secretary, and it turned into the talk of Silicon Valley. In fact, at its peak, Yo had more downloads than Facebook’s Snapchat clone, Slingshot.

Yo cofounder Moshe Hogeg claims is a great way for letting someone know that you’re thinking of them, and the app has spawned a handful of copycats, including one called “Hodor” that riffs on Game of Thrones, the popular book series turned HBO show. ReadWrite’s Lauren Orsini describes how you can make your own Yo clone

But it’s not the message that matters. It’s the medium. Specifically, it’s how Yo’s “yos” arrive as push notifications, rather than another message in an overcrowded inbox. Eventually, we might Yo our devices, not just our friends. A slew of recipes on IFTTT can connect with your smart home. Yo, thermostat, turn up the heat!

The Walkie-Talkie, Reinvented

I remember running around the yard playing with walkie-talkies when I was a kid. When I grew up, I started using Voxer to keep in touch with friends and family. Even though I regularly ignore voicemails, I’m always anxious to check the voice messages my sister leaves me through the app. 

Voice messaging is also a feature of Path Talk, the social network’s spinoff messaging app, and many do-it-all messaging apps feature the ability to send audio recordings.

Apple is even getting on board with this trend. In iOS 8, the company introduced a new voice messaging feature that lets you send friends audio messages through iMessage.

Emoji

Those tiny, cartoon-like icons you now see everywhere are the cave drawings of the 21st century.

Emoji originated in Japan in the late ’90s as colorful adaptations of standard chat emoticons like the “:)” smiley. Eventually emoji became a standard part of the online alphabet—literally incorporated into the Unicode standard. It was only a matter of time before we got a chat app based exclusively on emoji.

Emoj.li wants to be a way to keep in contact with your friends using only emoji icons. In fact, you don’t even have a name attached to your account when you sign up.

Other messaging apps seek to differentiate themselves—and sometimes make money—through custom emoji sets.

Ambient Messaging

Have you ever wanted to let your friend know you were running late, but were unable to text them? Thanks to ambient location services, it will soon be possible to message your friends without, well, messaging them.

Social networks like Facebook and Foursquare’s Swarm have adopted ambient services as way for friends to know the general area of one another without telling each other outright. But Path’s new messaging app takes that one step further.

Path Talk, the standalone messaging app Path released in June, is a way for people to share information with friends like “in transit,” or “listening to music,” without actively inputting that information.

Critics of ambient location think it’s creepy and potentially invasive, but apps are quick to point out that these services are opt-in, so you have complete control of who can see where you are and what you’re doing.

What’s Next?

It’s impossible to predict what new feature is going to appeal to people in the long run. While apps like Yo are fun to play with, they’re also easy to ditch for another app your friends are on. The more permanent message they deliver is how they’ve present us with a new way of communicating. 

It’s up to us to explore these new worlds messaging apps create. In the race to become the most popular way to communicate, some startup will inevitably create the messenger we never knew we wanted—until we found it.

Illustrations by Madeleine Weiss for ReadWrite

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Timeline: How Messaging Has Grown In The Computer Age

This is the third part of ReadWrite’s four-part series on the future of messaging.

In 1961, a group of computer scientists at the Massachusetts Institute Of Technology created a system where multiple people could share computer resources at once. At the time, access to computers was extremely limited. The notion was to share a scarce resource and store shared files.

Along the way, though, the MIT team more or less accidentally created a way for users to leave messages for each other.

 Called the Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS), the system was primarily used to write and debug code, but it would spread across Boston-area colleges as a messaging system for close to the next decade.

We’ve always turned new technologies into communication tools. Dial-up bulletin board systems, or BBSes, were popular in the 1980s, giving way to the interactive chatrooms of Prodigy, AOL, and other online services in the ’90s. 

Text messaging untethered our communications. And with the rise of the smartphone, messaging apps usurped traditional texting as a way to chat with friends.

What’s important to remember is that scrappy upstarts like WhatsApp and Snapchat didn’t come out of nowhere. Their forebears, like AIM and BlackBerry Messenger, laid the groundwork for their explosive popularity by training us to send short electronic messages to each other.

Messaging is now the hottest commodity in technology as companies contend to be the service that controls how you communicate, leading to the fierce messaging wars taking place in 2014.

But how did we get here? We’ve noted some of the biggest points in the mobile messaging saga that’s driven apps to fetch massive price tags, and, now that smartphones are more popular than feature phones worldwide, the app economy will only grow from here.

Lead image by Jim Pennuccitimeline illustration by Madeleine Weiss for ReadWrite

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Why We Need Messaging Apps

This is the second part of ReadWrite’s four-part series on the future of messaging.

The central paradox of the social age is this: We share at once too much and too little.

We share too much, because it’s impossible to do more than dip into the endless stream of updates from your friends, family, coworkers—everybody.

And we share too little because we have the sense of being on display when we post on Twitter and Facebook—either to a public audience or a diffuse, ill-defined set of “friends” who don’t reflect our real networks of intimacy. 

The answer to that paradox has come in the form of a big, fast-growing category of mobile experiences: messaging apps.

Why Messaging Fills A Social Need

In the first part of our series on the future of messaging, we explored how messaging apps displaced texting and social networking—and why there won’t likely be one dominant messaging app.

See also: Why No One’s Going To Win The Messaging War

The rise of smartphones and mobile broadband help explain why messaging apps have attracted hundreds of millions of users around the world. But those factors don’t fully explain their popularity. To understand them properly, we have to grapple with the psychology of messaging.

In the early days of social network, there was room to breathe and express yourself. When I was a freshman in college, I had 30 Facebook friends, and followed 10 people on Twitter who also followed me. Those social networks were intimate spaces for sharing private thoughts.

That has changed. Twitter is an online version of the town square—a decidedly public space. On Facebook, we feel only slightly less exposed—whatever we post goes to a large group of friends and followers, mixed in with updates and photos you see from brands and advertisers. Even our likes and favorites have become subject to scrutiny.

See Also: How Social Giants Are Trying To Take Over Your Text Messages

Before Facebook introduced its own private-messaging service, users communicated by leaving public wall posts for each other. That made sense when the service was limited just to college students. But once parents started joining Facebook, the need for more private options became clear. Teens didn’t abandon Facebook—but they shifted more of their interactions to apps like Snapchat.

Changing Your Behavior To Fit Your Online Identity

On public social networks, it’s hard to be your authentic self. We work to construct the best possible narratives of our lives to present to our friends and family.

And that means not sharing some of our more private thoughts and opinions. According to a study by researchers from the University of Michigan, the more friends a college student has on Facebook, the less they talk about controversial issues.

The researchers wrote:

Users who have a large number of Facebook friends are less likely to talk about politics and gay rights issues on Facebook despite having access to increasing human and information resources.

Because such topics tend to spark negative reactions on Facebook, people often avoid posting about them all together. With a smaller audience, our online identities are likely to be more authentic.

With a continuously increasing number of options for communication, we’ve begun to think more about what we share, where we’re sharing it and who we want to share with. On Facebook, someone might post about an accomplishment, whereas on Snapchat, they might share a selfie with some scribbled text over it with a friend describing how frustrated they felt about how long it took to achieve it. That frustration might be an evanescent emotion—which makes Snapchat, where messages are meant to disappear after they’re read, the appropriate medium.

These fractured communications may be here to stay. According to Forrester analyst Thomas Husson, author of the report “Messaging Apps: Mobile Becomes The New Face Of Social,” people will become accustomed to using a number of different apps to chat with friends.

“The social media ecosystem is somehow fragmented by nature, due to the fact that individuals have multiple identities and will switch between apps that will provide different voices,” Husson told me. “These apps are ways to manage your identities … people assume and drop personalities while allowing them to connect.”

Creating New Social Networks, Through Messages

Social networks ask us to define the people we know in groups—friends or acquaintances, followed or not. Google+ takes this to a ludicrous stream, asking us to categorize everyone we know into one or more overlapping “circles.” But messaging apps let us discard those constraining categories and form ad hoc friend groups for every occasion.

“Sometimes apps seem safer—you can have a small group and create your own boundaries, which is what these messaging apps do,” Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, said in an interview. “So people create a messaging group that is a social network, where you’ve created the boundaries, not someone else.”

Teens might be the model for this transition, thanks to youngsters who want a place to chat with friends and not parents, but it also applies to a greater number of people that want more privacy.

“There’s an increasing awareness of the need for privacy, and the need to understand privacy settings,” Rutledge said. “Not across the board and not in a totally effective way, but we’re seeing an awareness about it which makes things like Snapchat appealing in a very face-value kind of way.”

Even though your pictures don’t technically disappear from Snapchat’s servers the way the startup originally advertised, there’s comfort in the idea that the photo or video you take in the moment will disappear soon after its viewed—not stored in your timeline for eternity.

Snapchat’s disappearing messages are its distinctive feature. Other chat services have their own nuances, like Kik’s emoticon stickers, WhatsApp location sharing, or Line’s built-in games. These all contribute to the texture of the conversations they draw. What they have in common, though, is a sense that the messages aren’t part of our permanent record—they’re just part of a flow of communication.

“These [messaging] apps allow you to have a multi-sensory communication in a way that’s transitive—it isn’t too precious,” Rutledge said. “When we talk to each other, those words aren’t immortalized on paper. These apps really replicate features of face-to-face conversation.

“We want whatever is going to get the job done best. All these app developers are trying to figure out how to offer a big enough array of features so they capture the audience when they finally come to rest.”

New messaging apps are cropping up every day, but whatever service ultimately wins out is going to be where our friends are—and that’s not going to necessarily be just one place.

Just like people use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Tumblr for different purposes, different friend and interest groups will gravitate towards distinct tools that offer the best possible way of communicating.

The rise of messaging applications doesn’t mean the downfall of more public social networks. Rather, it signals a shift among Internet users who are realizing that in-jokes and baby pictures might best be delivered to a small group of friends who truly understand and welcome our true, authentic selves.  

Lead image courtesy of Henry Lockyer on Flickr

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Why No One’s Going To Win The Messaging War

This is the first part of ReadWrite’s four-part series on the future of messaging.

I was a teenage early adopter.

To me, it seemed like everyone else in my 8th grade class already had a cell phone when I got my first one a decade ago. But back then, only a third of American teens had sent a text message, according to the Pew Research Center. Three out of four teens, however, used instant messaging on their computers.

Fast forward a decade, and that percentage has neatly flipped. By 2012, 75% of American teens were texting, most of them daily, while only 22% used desktop-oriented instant messaging services on a daily basis. 

In that same time frame, social networks have become ubiquitous, and to some oppressive. Broadcasting our daily activities to a hungry audience of casual online acquaintances isn’t something most people care to do. For them, messaging is a retreat to a safer, more intimate way of communicating.

Now texting is exploding—and fragmenting. Where we’ll end up a decade from now is just as hard to predict as the massive leap we took from 2004 to 2014.

Controlling the way we communicate is a valuable prize, as Facebook and Twitter’s large valuations reveal. If social networks, which fostered the idea of broadcasting our status, give way to more private tools like messaging apps, the very shape of the Internet landscape will be transformed beyond recognition.

Beyond Texting

I’m pretty sure my first text was “I finally got a cell phone.” When I got my megatrendy Nokia 3310 candybar-style phone with a Superman case, texting meant you have a cell phone, and having a cell phone meant you could text. 

Messages are more than text, and more than phones. We now send messages using apps that add photos, videos, and other forms of communication while bypassing cell-phone companies’ networks. 

And messaging has become a high-stakes business, with billions of dollars at play.

In the last few years, a handful of massively successful messaging applications—and even more copycats—have launched. They all aim to provide a better way to communicate privately, one that’s superior to both traditional text messaging and to older social networks like Facebook and Twitter. And they are made possible by the rise of smartphones and fast, cheap data networks around the world.

See Also: The 10 Most Popular Mobile Messaging Apps In The World

The most notable one is WhatsApp, a company that Facebook is in the process of acquiring for $19 billion, which now has more than 500 million users. WeChat, a messaging service developed by Chinese Internet giant Tencent, is closing in on WhatsApp with 438 million users. There are other contenders including Kik, a messaging and gaming app; Line, which filed for an IPO in July; Viber, acquired by Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten for $900 million; and the disappearing-message startup Snapchat, which Facebook has now tried to copy twice.

The Text To End All Texts?

All of them face the most formidable competition not in each other but in the Short Message Service protocol, or SMS—the standard for text messages used by cell-phone companies around the world.

The first text message was sent in 1992. Neil Papworth, a software engineer for the Sema Group in the United Kingdom, sat down and tapped out “Merry Christmas.”

In the United States, where wireless carriers were late to offer standardized text messaging, teens drove adoption. But in the rest of the world, texting was a way of avoiding wallet-draining phone calls. (In Europe and Asia, wireless customers typically pay by the minute rather than buying monthly buckets of minutes or unlimited plans, as we do in the States.)

In 1995 people were sending only 5 messages a year on average, through a limited set of wireless carriers. That number has skyrocketed. In 2012, people around the world sent 2 trillion text messages. That’s 333 for each person with a phone on the planet. Those messages cost almost nothing for carriers to transmit, but the senders typically pay a few pennies for each one, making it a lucrative business—one that messaging apps are eager to take a piece of. 

Why Texting Isn’t Enough

Messaging is more than a business opportunity. It has deep meaning in our daily lives.

What makes messaging special—and drives us away from social media—is that messaging apps let us talk one on one, or with a small group. They give us a direct line of communication to people we care about. We can send a note that won’t get buried among a hundred other people’s updates in a news feed or timeline.

But how will we send those notes? That’s the critical question.

The inexorable rise of Facebook, and the concomitant decline of Myspace and Friendster, has led some to think that any app with social features is playing in a winner-take-all market. But that doesn’t seem to be happening in messaging.

Despite Facebook’s dominance, we’ve grown accustomed to using different social networks to manage our online identities—Facebook for friends, LinkedIn for work, and Twitter for news and information. That digital fragmentation will apply to private communications, too.

It’s easier than ever to build a messaging app, which can simply pull from our phone’s address books to populate a list of people to talk to. It’s not hard to keep up with multiple inboxes on a modern smartphone, where notifications tell us when we’ve got a new message.

Traditional SMS text messages won’t go away anytime soon. But what SMS lacks is precisely what gives messaging apps opportunities to grow. For many, texting still costs quite a bit of money. And it is restricted to 160 characters; you can send pictures and video on some services, but carriers haven’t worked out all of the kinks, and they’re aiming to charge even more for those extra. Texting may be the original mobile messaging service, but its shortcomings are painfully acute. 

“Most of [these messaging apps] started as a cheaper alternative to SMS and other messaging formats,” said Forrester analyst Thomas Husson, author of the report Messaging Apps: Mobile Becomes The New Face Of Social. “They were created in the last two, three, four years and they leverage app platforms, like iOS or Android, successfully reach out to hundreds of millions of customers worldwide.”

Why Multiple Messaging Apps Will Thrive

I still use SMS, but not as frequently as I did when I was younger.

There are six main messaging applications in the “social” bucket on my iPhone. For the most part, I use Apple’s iMessage, which essentially hijacks the built-in texting service of your phone to send free messages over your data plan. I have two friends who only ever message me on Snapchat. Another prefers Google Hangouts. I rarely open Facebook Messenger—mostly when I forget how Facebook now pushes you into its standalone Messenger app when you’re on your phone. I find Twitter’s direct-message feature, which is in desperate need of a rumored upgrade, helpful for staying connected to people I only know tangentially through the Internet. I used to use Skype for work, though we dropped it for Slack, a service that’s designed to help teams communicate.

Because all these messaging apps require both the sender and recipient to have the same service installed, what ends up happening is that we all have different friends on different applications. Figuring out which messaging app to use is like moving to a new city and figuring out which neighborhood to hang out in. If you want to see all your friends, you’ll have to roam around.

My friends are not all alike. Some like sharing selfies from work that disappear after I’ve viewed them. Others prefer to send cute digital stickers, or voice-only messages which make me feel like a kid using walkie-talkies in the backyard.

Facebook Won’t Own Messaging The Way It Owns Social Networking

The shift from one-to-many communication, like Twitter and Facebok, to one-to-few, like WhatsApp and WeChat, is forcing startups and social giants alike to rethink their strategy. 

Messaging apps are trying to take the basic human need for chatting with friends and family and turn it into something at once unique enough to draw interest, yet simple enough for the masses to adopt.

“Look at Facebook in particular and how they’re reacting to this WhatsApp acquisition, and the decision to not necessarily integrate that service into one single digital platform, but … create a constellation of apps,” Husson said. “More and more services are integrated into it—not like the one-size-fits-all social media app that Facebook used to be.”

The rise of Snapchat prompted Facebook to create a copycat called Poke that swiftly failed. Then it decided it might be better to buy than to build, snapping up WhatsApp, the world’s largest messaging app, for $19 billion

It’s still gambling on building a disappearing-message service to rival Snapchat’s popularity, but its latest attempt, Slingshot, has slumped to No. 444 in the App Store for photo and video apps. Facebook’s disappearing-message app is what’s really disappearing.

Facebook is making many bets on messaging, though, from its own Facebook Messenger app to Instagram Direct, a tool for sending photos to a small group of people within the photo-sharing service, which normally broadcasts photos to the public like Twitter. On Android, Facebook Messenger takes over your regular texts, much like iMessage does on iPhones.

Before Facebook offered private messaging, users posted messages on each other’s profiles in an attempt to communicate. It’s clear that messaging is a crucial part of the Facebook experience. It’s just not clear that Facebook, even with WhatsApp in its arsenal, will own all of messaging.

The Fight Has Only Just Begun

Just like we use different social networks for different purposes, messaging apps will fill distinct needs.

What people want in a messaging app is the same thing we’ve wanted since we texted our first “Hello”: a way to privately connect with friends and family. Yo, a much-ridiculed app which lets you send just one word of acknowledgement to your friends, boils down that desire for connection to its purest essence.

There’s a lot riding on controlling how we talk to friends—just look at the billions companies are paying for messaging services. 

But thanks to the pervasiveness of smartphones, and humans’ desire to connect with each other one on one or in small groups, messaging will only grow. And unlike in the world of social networks, where there’s unquestionable value in centralizing our activity, nothing will drive people to use just one app.

For the foreseeable future, we’ll live in a world where Snapchat lives alongside WhatsApp, where one-tap apps like Yo persist next to complex platforms for gaming and socializing like Line. Juggling multiple apps may be a mild aggravation for users like us. But if it means that no one company will control our most intimate communications, that seems like a tradeoff worth making.

Lead image by Anne Worner, illustrations by Nigel Sussman for ReadWrite

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Pinterest Messaging Arrives, Send Private Messages With Other Pinterest Users by @mattsouthern

Over two million pins are sent out every day, Pinterest said in an announcement. In an effort to get more conversations started around those pins, Pinterest is introducing Pinterest Messaging. Now when someone sends you a pin you will be able to reply with a message, or send that person a pin back. Here’s a video demonstrating how it works: In addition, Pinterest has also added the ability to send pins and messages to groups of people. If you’re organizing a camping trip with friends, for example, you can send pins and messages to the whole group with suggestions of […]

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Brand vs. SEO: Balancing Your Messaging – Business 2 Community

Brand vs. SEO: Balancing Your Messaging
Business 2 Community
That's an oversimplified (and incorrect) perspective on SEO, but it's a common assumption. Today's intense focus on keywords and Google algorithm updates results in brands rewording their messaging irregularly, without evaluation of their current brand …

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Twitter Is Making Direct Messaging More Private And User Friendly by @mattsouthern

Twitter announced on Friday that changes are coming to their direct messages are sent and stored across the network. Twitter’s support account made the announcement via a Tweet that emphasized the upgrade would make deleting DMs more consistent: Over the next few weeks, we’re rolling out an update that makes deleting DMs more consistent across web and mobile. http://t.co/VNtDXzwuvp — Twitter Support (@Support) July 18, 2014 This may not sound like a major updates, but it actually solves a huge problem with Twitter’s mobile app. Previously, when users deleted a direct message on the iOS or Android app, the messages would […]

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Friday Fun: Create Your Own Obnoxiously Simple Messaging App Just Like Yo

You’ve heard about Yo, the bare-minimum messaging app that does nothing but send your friends a “Yo” message with just one tap. In its wake have come OyYo, Hodor, and others. 

Bare-bones messaging is all the rage, because, let’s face it, actually composing a message made up of original words you think up in your head is a lot of work.

The sheer fatuousness of these apps has riled people up. While others pondered why anyone would sully the world by creating Yo and its ilk, we had a different question: How hard is it to code a simple messaging app that just sends a predetermined phrase?

There was only one way to find out.

We had to build our own annoying messaging app.

Meet One Click Message, a Yo-like app built with the help of Matt Makai, a developer evangelist at Twilio.

 I used text messaging rather than push notifications because text is a universal, sure-fire way to annoy your friends without requiring them—as Yo does—to download an app.

I wrote the app in Python, an English-like programming language ideal for beginner developers who want to make something silly while working with Python. It took all of 29 lines of code. 

Here’s a tutorial to help you follow along with the process, so you can see how easy it is for anyone to build a simple Yo clone.

One Click Message is a Web app, not a phone app, but it still texts anyone you want. When you build it, you select a word or phrase that you’d like to send in one click. Mine rickrolls people with Rick Astley lyrics.

And when your friends text you back, you can display all their exasperated replies like trophies right there on your Web app. (Note to self: I may need to get a lawyer soon. Or new friends.)

There’s very minimal coding required to get this off the ground. While I’ll walk you through how I wrote the app, you don’t have to redo the raw coding. Instead, you can copy my work—feel free!—by cloning my GitHub repository, where I stored the source code for the very small, simple program.

Want your own? Here’s how to do it in just ten steps.

1) Sign Up For Twilio

Twilio is a company that makes developer-friendly set of tools for creating text and voice applications. Twilio lets you call and text your own phone number for free and charges three fourths of a penny for calls and text messages to any other phone.

When you sign up, Twilio will give you a phone number (this is what our app will use to text your friends) and API credentials (this is what will allow our app to access our account). I’ve blurred mine out because you should never share these with anybody!

2) Upgrade Your Twilio Account

In my previous tutorial, My Fish Just Sent Me A Text Message, we used Twilio for free, because I was just sending texts to myself. But for a messaging app, we’re going to want to be able to text other people too, so we’re going to have to upgrade our Twilio account by paying for it.

Twilio uses a credit card on file to bill you, but if you add $5 to your account, that’s enough to send and receive about 666 texts on your app—plenty for an experiment like this.

Why pay for texts? Twilio is one of the easiest ways I’ve found to integrate messaging into your development projects, and carriers charge for every text message anyway. It’s hard to find a similar service that’s both free and flexible.

I promise this is the first and last time you’ll have to fork over money for this tutorial. Let’s move on to another tiered free-to-pay tool, of which we’ll be using just the free part…

3) Sign Up For Nitrous.io

There are a lot of options for spaces where you can build and host your own online app. When I built a random non-sequitur Twitter bot, I used Heroku. This time I’m using one of Heroku’s competitors, Nitrous.io. They’re both development environments and online hosts for apps. This means you don’t have to think about setting up your own server—you can just run your code and go.

Why choose one Web-based app builder over another? In this case, I chose Nitrous because it launched with Twilio functionality already built in. Using a different service might mean having to write more code, and I wanted to do the least amount of work possible here.

Sign up with an email and wait for Nitrous.io to email you your confirmation.

4) Create A New “Box” For Your Code

On Nitrous.io, you build and host apps by putting them in different repositories, or as Nitrous calls them, boxes. A free account earns you one box. That’s plenty.

Once you’re signed up with Nitrous, go to your dashboard and click the orange button that says “New Box.” Ours is a Python app, so select “Python/Django.”

Don’t worry about the unusual name Nitrous.io will assign you. It does so to make sure every box has a unique name. Because it’s so easy to create new boxes, Nitrous has to make sure it has lots of names available and they don’t repeat.

Finally, at the bottom where it says, “Download a GitHub repo,” you’ll want to select my One Click Message repository by typing in https://github.com/laurenorsini/one-click-message.git.

Take a moment here, if you like, to look at my code. I use Flask, a microframework for Python, which adds new usability to Python in a number of different ways. For the purposes of this project, we’re focusing on Flask’s ability to simplify integrating Web-based forms with the Python language. In this case, it’s a form that collects your friend’s phone number and passes it on to Twilio, which in turn sends out your designated annoyance text.

Why use a microframework instead of just writing it all myself in Python? Because it’s another opportunity to write less code than we have to. Instead of writing lines of code to bridge the gap between Web forms and Python functions, we just call Flask in to do our dirty work.

When you’re done, it should look like this:

5) Set up the Integrated Development Environment (IDE)

When your box is created, there will be a new orange button below it that says IDE. An IDE, or integrated development environment, is just a place where you can work on code. Click it. You’re now in the part of Nitrous that lets you examine and edit your app’s code.

There are a couple of panels here. To the left is the file hierarchy. If you click on “Workspace,” you’ll see the GitHub repository “one-click-message” populated beneath it. To the right is the chat. I usually just close that, because I’m working on this myself rather than with coding partners. 

In the center is where you edit files. And the entire bottom half of the screen is the console, where you test and deploy programs.

Let’s go down to that bottom screen now. First, we need to install the Twilio API like this:

pip install twilio

This is one of the benefits of using Nitrous. Because we selected its Python option, pip, a program which helps install new Python code, is already installed.

Next, we’re going to install Flask, the framework that adds additional functionality to Python programs. Remember how our finished app allows you to input a phone number? While Twilio is adding messaging functionality, Flask makes it possible to build responsive Python forms.

pip install flask

Now you’ve got all the tools you need in your IDE to get this project going.

6) Add Your Twilio Identication to App.py

If you look inside the one-click-message folder, you’ll see that there are six files in it, not counting images. Two of these, form.html and messages.html inside the Templates folder, make up the visual Web pages that you see when you interact with the app. The cascading style sheet, form.css, is what makes them look pretty.

But the glue holding the entire project together is a Python script named app.py. This is the only part of the project you actually have to alter in order to get it to function.

Inside app.py, I’ve inserted comments about what certain parts of the program do. The part you need to pay attention to right now is:

client = TwilioRestClient ('ABC', '0123') 

twilio_number = "+1234567890" 

Fill in your Twilio credentials on the first line, and your Twilio phone number on the second. With these lines, we’re telling the program how to talk to Twilio’s application programming interface, and whose account to use.

7) The Fun Part: Add Your Message

Maybe it’s a stupid joke. Maybe it’s a really long string of words you text to people frequently and are tired of writing out. Maybe it’s a really long stupid joke. Either way, you’re going to want to put it in on this line in app.py:

client.messages.create(to=formatted_number, from_ = twilio_number, body = "Message of your choice.") 

As you can see, it’s easy enough to change the message by going back into app.py and adjusting this line. So just put something fun for now.

Note to out-of-United-States tutorial readers: This is also where you would want to customize the program with your country code.

formatted_number = "+1" + number

I’ve told the program to add “+1” to any number inputted in the app because I’m in the US and so are the people I plan to text. But it may be different for you.

Finally, don’t forget to save the newly edited app.py!

8) Run Python

OK, we’re getting close to finishing up! Go back to the console at the bottom and navigate to the folder where app.py lives like this:

cd workspace

cd one-click-message

cd is a command that stands for “change directory.” We’re changing from our main directory to the one where app.py is so we can run app.py.

Here’s how you actual run it:

python app.py

If you are in the right directory, the IDE should spit back something like this:

 * Running on http://0.0.0.0:3000/                                                                                                  

 * Restarting with reloader  

9) Preview Your App

With Python still running, go to the navigation bar at the top of the IDE and select Preview: Port 3000. We want the public port 3000, not the SSL (secure socket layer) option.

Your app should open up in another window, like this!

10) Get Texting!

Try out your new app by texting your own phone number. Don’t forget, you need to put it in like this: 1234567890, not like this: (123) 456 – 7890 for it to work. (It wouldn’t be hard to add a few more lines that match patterns by using a library like python-phonenumbers, but for simplicity, I skipped that.)

After you hit send, try sending a reply text, and refresh the page. This will probably be the least-irritated response you’ll get!

How the ReadWrite team replied to my app. 

Text your friends, or share the app’s address with them and trick them into texting themselves.

Have fun! And if you get somebody to invest a million bucks in your obnoxious one-click messaging app, that’s just icing on the cake.

Lead photo by Jhaymesisviphotography

View full post on ReadWrite

Why Twitter Needs Its Own Messaging App

Twitter is the social application I use the most. I check it as soon as I wake up in the morning, whenever I have a free moment while riding the bus or in line at a coffee shop, and when news breaks. I rely on it heavily for news and information, as well as predictable snark from fellow journalists.

When I spend time on Twitter, I’m either posting or reading public updates. Very rarely do I use it to send direct messages, as Twitter calls its one-to-one private messages, mostly because it’s a feature buried within an app that’s geared for news consumption, not private communication.

If Twitter rebooted its direct-messaging system and turned it into a standalone app, like Facebook has done with Facebook Messenger, I would gladly use it as a mobile messenger. Right now, most conversations I have with people via direct message always end with, “Here, text me, that will just be easier.”

Twitter has made a handful of changes in recent months to improve direct messages, including adding the ability to send photos in messages. After a period when the messaging feature was all but hidden, the company has put an increased emphasis on private messaging, and there were rumors last year that the company is working on a private messaging client to compete with apps like WhatsApp. So far, though, nothing has materialized.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo recently dropped hints about improved messaging features in the company’s most recent quarterly earnings call, suggesting that the company was exploring ways to share updates privately with a small group of people. That would be great, too—if the company first took care of the basic problems with its existing messaging tools.

Messaging Is Overtaking Social

Gone are the days when oversharing with hundreds of friends was the most popular way to spend time online. As people become more concerned about privacy—and as messaging startups continue to pop up with unique features designed for chatting—more people are choosing to share information privately.

The “ephemeral” messaging startup Snapchat exploded into popularity among teens with its disappearing photos. Other social networks, most notably Facebook, struggled to catch up. Facebook’s Snapchat clone, Poke, failed miserably, and to add insult to injury, Snapchat reportedly rebuffed Facebook’s $3 billion acquisition offer.

As we’ve since learned, Snapchat messages don’t actually disappear—but the idea of disappearing messages which can’t be held up to public scrutiny has taken hold. And that’s a problem for Twitter, whose dominant mode of sharing is public.

Nothing encapsulates the rising trend in mobile messaging quite like Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp—the world’s most popular messaging application—for $19 billion. Although Facebook has its own mobile messenger which it’s been focused on growing, buying WhatsApp was a testament to people’s switch from social networks to messaging apps.

It’s time for Twitter to get on board.

A Flawed Messaging System

Twitter’s direct messages are frustrating. You can’t send links to the majority of websites. The character limit is set at 140—even shorter than a traditional text message. And if you send more than 250 messages a day, you can end up in Twitter jail. All of these limitations are arbitrary results of Twitter’s architecture, not elegant product decisions based on user needs.

Last fall, Twitter made it impossible to send links in direct messages. The company claimed it was a technical issue with URLs sent in direct messages at the time. But if it’s a glitch, it’s still not fixed: Users still can’t send links via DM. There are a few sites that are approved for inclusion, like twitter.com and facebook.com, but others, like personal websites and even major news sites, don’t work. 

Twitter’s restriction of inboxes was likely an attempt to keep spammy messages to a minimum. While it did eliminate unwanted messages—I haven’t received a spammy DM since Twitter blocked links—I’ve been increasingly frustrated every time I try to share a link with a friend. 

Users can send messages from both Twitter’s mobile app and Twitter.com, but often notifications are out of date between versions. On the Web, I receive messages well after I’ve already read them on mobile, and frequently there is a notification alert above the mail icon on my Twitter homepage alerting me to a message I’ve already read. 

Fail Me Once, Shame On You

Then there are those legendary “DM fails.”

One benefit of Twitter creating a messenger application might be to put an end, once and for all, to Twitter scandals where the sender claims they goofed and tried to send a direct message—an idea now so common it inspired a plot point in Jon Favreau’s new movie Chef.

The notion of a direct-message mistake, or “DM fail,” is becoming dated. DM fails happened more frequently when people used Twitter via text message or third-party clients and replied to someone with an “@” instead of a “D” in front of their username—remember Rep. Anthony Weiner’s epic mishap

Now that people regularly use the Twitter app or Twitter on the Web, these DM fails are pretty hard to do, but people are still using the excuse when caught writing inappropriate tweets. 

An overhauled messaging system would not only improve the Twitter experience, but it would also be a way to attract more users, and keep them on the service. Twitter has struggled to evangelize its services to the masses, and is taking steps to appeal to a larger audience by simplifying its services. A standalone messaging app could do just that.

And separating the idea of public and private communications would go far to simplify what Twitter means. Foursquare just did something similar in unbundling its location-broadcasting and city-guide features into separate apps.

In the meantime, I’ll just have to keep giving out my phone number to Twitter friends. Or I’ll tell them to message me on Facebook. 

Image by threesisters

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