Google's messaging bait and switch

Most will tell you that Google doesn't get social, many will even take great delight in doing so.

Buzz was a decent offering with a good community vibe, but was hampered by being solely within Gmail and forever tarnished by the initial privacy snafu.

Google+ was a bold move with great potential but most didn't seem ready for the approach taken with it: everything linked to identity; a social layer as much as a social network. And privacy advocates decried its reach.

Google pulled away from its original intent once it became apparent that people (and regulators) didn't want social tied to everything leading them to refocus on Communities.

Then came Spaces - a seemingly cut-price version of those communities for small groups, but even this is being criticised for poor implementation.

Not a good track record.

Leapfrogging the competition

Jamie Davidson wrote an incredibly insightful post in which he posited that Google's new iOS keyboard - Gboard - was a way for Google to disrupt the messaging landscape dominated by Facebook with Messenger and WhatsApp. A seemingly brilliant plan to insert itself into every other platform and usurp their power.

Davidson argues that chat and messaging is now the killer application on mobile and, if you factor in Mike Elgan's notion that social networking is slowly dying in favour of private networking, you can't help but see the pattern.

But there's more.

As soon as I saw the announcement of Google's new messaging app Allo my instant reaction was that this might actually be a remarkably clever power move by Google.


People love Gboard saying it is the first 3rd party keyboard on iOS that can really hold its own and be a viable alternative to the standard iOS offering. By having search integrated into the keyboard you avoid much of the need to switch out of the host messaging app - an incredibly powerful proposition.

But, placed alongside the announcement of Google Assistant, it is almost as if Google is saying "Gboard is powerful, we know you like it, but just imagine how much better it would be if it was integrated into its OWN app."

Bait and switch.

Google is being criticised for having too many different messaging apps with overlapping remits - almost a throw enough at the wall and see what sticks approach.

This time they could be on to something.

Although we still have a while before Allo launches, the only thing that surprises me is that Gboard wasn't released much earlier, and far wider than just the US, to give users more time to get hooked. Bait and switch but with an improved payoff.

It's a clever ploy that might just work.

Colin Walker Colin Walker colin@colinwalker.blog