A chat about team communication

The market for team communication software is growing fast. Commercial software like Slack, HipChat, Google Hangouts, and Skype for Business are in the lead. Slack and HipChat have their primary focus on instant messaging and chat, but they also incorporate voice and video communication.

The nature of this software category is to lock-in users to a platform that is closed to the outside. Though Slack and HipChat do allow for data migration between their platforms, but otherwise they cannot interoperate with each other.

Persistent chat platforms may end up replacing internal company emails, but they do not (yet) promise inter-company communication, and they certainly do not allow communication across platforms.

We have one truly open platform for asynchronous communication across platforms and companies. It’s called email. The race is still on to create a dominant inter-company team communication platform for instant messaging, chat and video. I sincerely hope that an open platform will become a foundation for the market, but the prospect is not bright. We have already gone through the rise and fall of XMPP. So, why should any new open platform have a better chance?

We may end up with a very fragmented set of platforms, or (more likely) the worse scenario: The fight for market share will eradicate small players, and we end up with a single proprietary platform. Just like we are stuck with proprietary de facto standards for digital office documents.

With a growing demand for software in this category, it won’t be long before business software giants with a lot of cash to burn, like Microsoft and Google, will try to push other platforms out, in order to dominate this market. Microsoft is already pushing really hard with Skype for business, their take on a team communication platform.

The platform fight also includes a number of open source projects. Some of leading ones are Zulip and Mattermost, the latter is essentially (like it or not) a Slack clone. But, creating an open source (clone) platform is not enough. A small open source platform may fast become irrelevant, if it doesn’t offer true inter-platform communication.

I like to believe that there is still a chance for a truly open inter-platform team communication platform to take the lead. I’m cheering for Matrix, an emerging open standard for decentralised communication. Using Matrix, users can message and call each other without having to care what app the other user is on - making it as easy as sending an email. A true platform agnostic standard that would allow for company internal group communication, as well as inter-company collaboration. Go Matrix!