When WebRTC emerged in 2012, the concept of moving from the client-server model of the PSTN to a web model was the biggest transformation. In the world of computing, the web paradigm has virtually eliminated the client-server model for many applications. In the client- server model your device is connected to a single server, and that server interacts with other servers on your behalf (think email). The computing model of the web where you point your device at the server you want to interact with has become the basis for virtually all of the innovation in the last 25 years. However, the communications space remains client-server whether you’re talking about the PSTN or closed communities like Skype (News - Alert). The promise of WebRTC was that it would usher in a world of web-based communications and allow literally millions of communications servers to operate independently. The impact of this would be a dramatic reduction in the value of the phone number.
Now there is another threat to the phone number, from the largest online community in the world: Facebook (News - Alert). In a recent blog post, David Marcus, vice president of of messaging products at Facebook, showed some of the statistics of usage on Facebook Messenger. He reported that Messenger usage has reached 800 million users per month. While the post did not talk about text vs. video usage, it is clear that Facebook Messenger is becoming a major communications solution. In fact, it is the best example of how WebRTC is changing the world.
His comments around messaging vs. phone numbers show how Facebook sees the future. In the post, Marcus talks about “the disappearance of the phone number.” He suggests that the phone number and system are hopelessly antiquated and ripe for change. His position is that communications from within Facebook is easier, work across a range of devices, and can be seen as a simple continuum of capabilities, replacing the phone number with your Facebook identity. In fact, he goes on to point out how business interactions are possible within the social platform and are much better than by the phone.
“At Messenger we’re thinking about how we can help you interact with businesses or services to buy items (and then buy more again), order rides, purchase airline tickets, and talk to customer service in truly frictionless and delightful ways,” Marcus says. “It is so much easier to do everything in one place that has the context of your last interactions, as well as your identity – no need to ever login – rather than downloading apps that you’ll never use again and jumping around from one app to another.”
Clearly Facebook sees itself as enabling not only its users’ personal but also their business interactions. This is a critical aspect for companies looking for the next generation of customer interactions, especially if your customers are avid Facebook users. Facebook is even working on adding a personal assistant to the system to help users manage their lives.
The post raises two points. First, Facebook Messenger is becoming a standard for most Facebook users, changing the way they interact. Second, Facebook is moving to create a real-time representation environment for its billion users that it clearly believes has potential to replace traditional telephony communications.
The webification of communications is well under way. This change is something everyone in enterprise communications and collaboration, as well as customer care, needs to pay attention to, understand, and integrate into its strategies and plans.
Ultimately the question is whether the phone number will remain a key identity beyond the PSTN. If I can find you through a URL (think your email address and the web), do I need to use your phone number? If your URL identity and your phone number are managed through a single web/network identity/platform, do you care what tool people use to get to you? Which is easier to understand and use? In the end all of these questions will have to be considered in the years ahead. While phone number and the PSTN are not in imminent collapse, the single mechanism for real-time communications is rapidly giving way to a new paradigm – just ask 800 million Facebook Messenger users.
Edited by Rory J. Thompson