Key Learnings from Messaging Summit

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[image via] The many ways in which we connect!

Yesterday I headed to the fabulous offices of Young & Rubicam in New York City to attend the #ZulaSummit. Jeff Pulver warned me the speaker lineup was going to be great; accomplished entrepreneurs in the audience completed an already strong program.

What is Zula? It is an app designed to give groups of users a secure way to create text-based conversations on a messaging platform, then initiate voice calls instantly through the platform as well as share files (integrating with Dropbox among other storage options).

We tend to use different tools to communicate as we get things done.

  • Email – Early in the day we talked about email being both the bain of our existence, and yet the most frequently used. Some do's mentioned: write a maximum of two to three paragraphs, keep them short and to the point; use the title to orient the recipient if you are looking for action; make good use of archives; if you have not opened in several days, archive. Paul Berry, previous CTO of HuffPo and now CEO of Rebel Mouse, said "interestingy, though Google gets hammered for not getting social, gmail is still the center."
  • Google Docs – are an incredible communication space for team collaboration. You can literally have people in the file at the same time and see their actions.
  • Twitter DM – is still king in many situations when you need to reach out to someone quickly. For example, in two recent occasions when I was meeting a friend and colleague in NYC for drinks we used DM to update our status and make final arrangements.
  • Skype – many still use its messaging function at work in addition to using it for calls. For example, I have used it with my geographically dispersed team as a back channel during client presentations; having a way to provide information and reinforce points as the meeting progresses is quite valuable.


Remember when we started talking about people bringing in their own devices at work? Some enterprise IT groups were not very happy about that. Yet, in we went with our personal smartphones, then tablets and laptops in some cases.

From the devices to the software and applications was a short jump — in organizations where access to social networks was blocked, people started taking the Facebook break on their devices. Which is why many organizations adopted the devices and even created secure apps for their employees to handle sensitive information.

Last year Ben Thompson# drew the social communications map to show how Facebook/Instagram and Twitter were trying to play both in the public and permanent and the more private and ephemeral space occupied by messaging apps. Hence Facebook Messenger, Instagram Direct, and Twitter DM.


What is happening is that as more and more people use messaging apps like Kik, SnapChat, WhatsApp, WeChat to communicate with friends using their phones, which are always with them, they are starting to use these same tools with colleagues and teams as well. The desktop still reigns in most cases at work, hence Skype's popularity in professional environments.

So on one side you have organizations adopting the devices, and on the other you have a need for instant messaging. In the past, communication technology has worked to eliminate the ephemeral.

Users are concerned about the privacy of their conversations — hence why we the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has provided a secure messaging scorecard#. Just six pass muster, and you probably never heard of them — ChatSecure + Orbot, Cryptocat, Signal/Redphone, Silent Phone, Silent Text and TextSecure.

Based on their scoring in categories like encryption, ability to verify contacts' identity, the security of past communications, the majority of apps fail the test. This echoes parts of the presentation on professional messaging by Mark Hull, LinkedIn Director of Product Management.

Organizations are concerned about the liability of such informal conversations, and this is the exact problem Confide is looking to solve — keeping your messages “off the record.” As Jon Brod illustrated with a live enactment, when we do not need to worry about our remarks coming back to haunt us, we can type what we actually think in the same way we would say it confidentially.

Bottom line, we do need a tool to manage team communications, a platform for easy conversation. Slack was mentioned by many speakers and participants throughout the day. This is a messaging and collaboration app that integrates with a number of services people already use at work#.

Back to the future

Christina Warren, Mashable Senior Tech Analyst, provided a rapid-fire tour of what the future of technology holds.

Thanks to Christina I discovered Quip, a mobile productivity tool. As a linguist, the best and most fascinating part of her talk for me was the topic of emoji, a term that comes from Japanese and means literally picture writing.

You may not know the technical term, yet you probably used images to express feelings like faces, for example on Skype you can add them off a menu. They are not the same as emoticons; the Unicode FAQ defines# them in more detail. You can track them in real time# on Twitter (caution message will appear).

Incidentally, just yesterday Mac Rumors covered Unicode Consortium news# about expanded racial diversity with skin tone modification by mid-2015.

By way of symbol and image, with emoji communication can be compressed and re-interpreted free of text-based constraints. In other words across languages/geographies.

Another sign of the shifting forces in (digital) culture. We may not have reached Jonathan Harris' grunt prediction, however compression, disposability, curation, and self-promotion are still going strong.

Grand finale

The Q&A with Gary Vaynerchuk capped the day. I just recently learned from Jesse Redniss about the new Brave Ventures founded by @garyvee @jesseredniss @dbecktweets, one of the exciting projects that followed selling a lot of wine and building social-first digital shop VaynerMedia.

It was refreshing to have a frank — “you don't hustle if you don't know what a 17-hour day feels like” — discussion about what it takes to build a business and to end on such a high and pragmatic optimism note.

Best quotes of the day

  • “Going Viral is not a marketing strategy.” @AriZoldan during the panel discussion with @JYarow, Jack Mark, and Danny Shultz
  • “Now-ism = being present. Social media takes you away from your now.” @JeffPulver
  • “Ephemerality is the digital condom for sensitive, private moments.” @jbrod
  • “If you focus on the roadblocks, you will always lose.” @GaryVee

New people to follow on Twitter: Christina Warren, Jay Yarow, Chef Lizette, and many already mentioned in this post.

Many thanks to the whole Zula team, Jeff Pulver, Jacob Ner-David, Hillel Fuld, Jo Friedman, Michelle Zucher, and Ari Zoldan from Quantum Networks for making the event happen, and David Sable from Y&R for hosting it.

(The app is free for now; the plan is to launch paid features in the future. Download Zula for iOS here or Android here.)

UPDATE: 9to5Mac has an article# about a leaked WhatsApp screen shot update that shows read receipts and suggests future VOIP feature. You may recall Jeff Pulver, Zula, practically invented VOIP#.

UPDATE 2: Digiday | Snapchat is in partnership talks with BuzzFeed, Time, others#Snapchat also wants to serve its users text and audio, which would make it an all-inclusive media consumption app.

UPDATE 3: Techcrunch | Kik Introduces Promoted Chats To Let Brands On Its Messaging App And Finally Make Money#Kik has introduced ‘Keywords’, a feature that lets brand accounts create stock responses based on ‘trigger’ words in chats from users following them. Promoted chats were introduced in the summer#.

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