Messaging 101 Series: Choosing Between Single and Multi-Thread Conversations

The basic conversation list is a fundamental UI component for any messaging experience. After all, you can’t have conversations with users if they can’t locate the messages.

Regardless of your specific use case, the way you present the conversation list to users matters. Any friction in the experience could be the difference between creating a lasting connection with a customer and losing her to your competitor.

There are two main ways you can design a conversation list—single and multi-thread conversations. Here are some guidelines you can follow to choose the right option for your users.

When Single Conversations Make Sense for Your Messaging

If you’re just starting out with messaging, you might not be familiar with the full range of use cases. Your only thought might be a standard text messaging app on your phone.

Messaging scenarios with single conversations are not the same as your test messaging apps. Rather than giving users access to speak with many different users, a single conversation contains customers and prospects to a siloed experience.

There are many use cases that can benefit from single conversation lists, but two prime examples are conversational commerce and concierge apps in the hotel industry:

• Messaging in Conversational Commerce: 55% of consumers choose text notifications as the top service to accompany appointment scheduling—your users want to engage in conversational commerce. But this doesn’t mean they want a constant barrage of sales pitches being delivered through your messaging experience. For your conversational commerce messaging, users will engage more with a single, personalized attendant. Even if there are multiple attendants or bots, it’s easiest to keep retail to single conversations for seamless purchases and inquiries.

• Concierge Experiences in the Hotel Business: Millennials are going to be spending more on experiences than “stuff” in the coming years. Part of the travel experience is making sure you experience all the local culture has to offer—which is where the traditional hotel concierge always came in. But now, you can achieve better engagement with your customers with messaging-based concierge. Whether you’re offering local travel information, event listings, or recommending restaurants in the area, you only need a single conversation with users. Trying to break out into multi-thread conversation lists would just overwhelm users and introduce friction in the experience.

In both of these use cases, your agent side likely won’t match the customer side’s single conversations. For the agent side (and other use cases) multi-thread conversations are best.

When to Choose a Multi-Thread Conversation List

Even if you don’t think about the term “multi-thread conversation” all the time, you use them every day—multi-thread messaging is a landmark feature of email.

Your real-time messaging experience is more powerful than email, but that doesn’t mean it can’t share some features. When your customers are engaging with different people about different subjects, splitting conversations into their own threads is often the best user interface.

One use case for this type of conversation list is for marketplaces. When you’re establishing your messaging experience as a channel for users to interact with one another to sell products and services. Forcing all of these separate interactions into one conversation just wouldn’t make sense.

Build a Branded Messaging Experience for Your Unique Needs

Choosing between single and multi-thread conversations is just one consideration when building your branded messaging experience. But taking the steps to follow messaging best practices is the only way to create an experience that can drive your business.

If you want more insight into what goes into a powerful messaging experience, check out our full Messaging Best Practices Guide.

Messaging: the key layer of every meaningful app

Mary Meeker recently released her annual treatise on the state of the Internet, “Internet Trends 2015.” Almost immediately after its release, I received messages from many tech industry friends, all remarking on the language she used to summarize the role messaging plays in apps:

“Internet Trends,” 2015

We agree wholeheartedly. Here at Layer, we feel messaging isn’t a feature of an application that is just “tacked on” after the fact. Instead, it’s a crucial layer of successful apps that powers engagement and growth. As Mary’s deck shows, a pure messaging app such as WhatsApp, with 800 million MAU and 30 billion messages sent per day, exemplifies the massive reach and engagement that is possible with messaging alone. Our goal is to help developers unlock this engagement and growth within their own messaging-based apps.

So how can your own apps benefit from taking advantage of this trend? First and foremost, it’s important to understand exactly why these apps are successful.

Why messaging apps so often succeed

The key to understanding why messaging apps are successful is to understand why we as users enjoy using them. These apps fit within our busy lives, so we know that we can trust them with our time. They’re also intrinsically viral, in that your experience is improved if you convince others to use the app. This, in turn, fosters personal connections, including a unique bond between you and the app.

With so many demands on our limited attention, many people prefer the asynchronicity of text-based messages to the synchronicity of a phone call. This same effect is witnessed in apps: we have limited amounts of time to spend with them, so we want bite-sized information that we can asynchronously share with others, in a way that suits everyone’s schedule and engagement level.

From a growth perspective, asynchronous messaging is inherently viral, and the popularity of modern messaging clients mirrors this perfectly. If your friends are using Snapchat to send fun, ephemeral messages to each other, you get the app just to make sure you’re part of the conversation. No app, no fun. The result? Snapchat is a worldwide phenomenon with 100 million highly-engaged users, all of which is built atop a messaging network.

Finally, messaging is personal. It allows for the creation of spaces outside of the noisy social networks, where like-minded people can build bonds around the content and topics they care about. These bonds also help to build an important connection between the user and your app.

The benefits of native messaging

By leveraging messaging in your app, you’re supporting your users’ desire to share content while also capturing the conversations around that content. You’re also taking advantage of a growing trend: people want to have conversations outside of the large networks. Finally, and most importantly, you’re maintaining control over one of your most important assets: your user graph.

Your users are conditioned to share and discuss content from applications. If your app neglects this reality, and acts as nothing more than a content creation tool, you’re effectively pushing your users to other networks to share their experiences — which they will do. This degrades the experience of your content, lowers the engagement rates for your app, and subsequently the growth of your app as users are not using your app to discuss your content.

Creating your own in-app messaging is also an effective means to capitalize on a growing trend for users: the large social networks have become overwhelming and quite often completely unrelated to the topics and content about which they care the most. At any given moment, there’s a small network of people who care about something that’s just seen as noise to the larger conversations occurring in others’ Timelines or Newsfeeds.

An example of this in recent memory is the finale of Serial, the NPR podcast that smashed iTunes download records. A group of highly-engaged listeners wanted to discuss the finale with others, but the content they created was interspersed with the usual cacophony of unrelated Tweets and posts. The result is that those who wanted to share their experience with others felt alone, and those who had no interest in the discussion were annoyed at references that were off-topic to their own on-going conversations. Had NPR directly catered to these users with in-app messaging, they could have gained directly from the engagement, by upselling other podcasts directly to their audience or by seeing a concentration of what people liked and disliked about the podcast. This is just one example of a scenario that happens thousands of times a day.

Finally, and most importantly, a side effect of incorporating messaging into your app is that you maintain control over your own users and user graph. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore the massive distribution available via the large networks. Instead, the savvy developer will use the social networks as what they are: identity providers and marketing channels. Their simple auth mechanisms enable your users to identify themselves to you quickly, and their massive networks of users should allow others to discover your content. Your job is to then capture that conversation and bring it into your app.

The future of messaging

We’re just now seeing the power messaging can have in apps. As devices and networks continue to evolve, we’ll see many more advancements in network speed and the content types that people want to interact with in real time. If your application is built on a layer of messaging, it will be perfectly positioned to respond to whatever the future holds. And, if you’ve not yet transitioned your app, it’s never too late to change that.

To easily create your own messaging-based app, Layer provides Atlas, our open source UI framework that gets you up and running in minutes.

For those of you who are interested in transitioning your existing app to support messaging, come back for Part 2 of this series, where we’ll show an in-depth transition. In the meantime, the team at Layer is always here to help.

Kicking off I/O at Layer HQ

Thanks to everyone for coming out last night. Together with co-hosts Bloomberg Beta, Homebrew, Data Collective, Fuel Capital, Morado Ventures and AME Cloud Ventures, we welcomed a great crowd.

Thanks for kicking off I/O with us. Hope everyone has an excellent week.

Design critique at Layer HQ

Last night we cohosted an event at Layer’s Mission District HQ with Salesforce’s Brooks Hassig. The event brought together local designers and gave them the chance to get honest feedback from peers on their current work. A taco truck, warm San Francisco evening and great company made for a fantastic event. A fine time was had by all.

(Photo credit to Layer’s Seb Deux.)

Layer is hiring designers. We’d love to hear from you.

Join us

Spotlight on a Layer user: Otro

Editor’s note: Today’s Q&A is with Otro App’s Ana Fonda. In a space rich with options for communicators, Otro is setting itself apart from other messaging apps early. A key part of the experience is your unique character (hint: read the interview to learn how the significance of the name ties in with the characters). It’s been so fun working with this European team: they’re quick to develop and thoughtful in their approach to design and UX. We’re seeing lots of messaging apps emerge from the Layer platform and hope other dev teams are inspired by this app and the features they’re building with Layer. They’ll be ready to release soon. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

 

Layer: Tell us a bit about Otro. What it is and what does it do?
AF:
Otro is a messaging app with a unique character that expresses emotions. You can create your own character, chat with your friends and send photos, videos, voice, location info, and custom animated stickers. Creating an Otro self is easy. There are a variety of colors, patterns, and add-ons to choose from. There are also ephemeral message options.

Layer: There are already lots of messaging apps. Why did you create Otro?
AF: When we set out to create Otro, we felt existing apps on the messaging market didn’t focus enough on the design and user personification. We made this the foundation of Otro. We thought about what users might love and what design would appeal to them without compromising the user experience. We realized we can create wonderful feelings and connections with Otro characters, which is amazing and what keeps us motivated.

Layer: Why did you choose to make unique characters such a fundamental part of the Otro experience?
AF: The messaging app market is crazy with so many apps competing. We knew we had to offer something different. This is where our unique characters come in. We wanted them to evoke emotions like fondness, warmth, and affection. In a way the character should be a part of the user. That’s also how the name came around. Otro in spanish means “other,” and it’s exactly what we wanted to convey – the character in Otro is the other you.

Layer: Otro is a beautifully-designed app. Can you speak a bit about that?
AF: Design is definitely a big part of Otro. We wanted to create an app that would be highly useable while still allowing each user to give it their personal touch. The possibility of customization defined the workflow, the tools we used, and to some extent even the look of Otro. What we came up with is an app that’s designed with constraint where usability is important, but then there is this big part of it where it’s up to you to decide on how you want it to be and to have fun.

Layer: What’s your hope for Otro? What do you hope it enables?
AF: When you create something, you have an urge to share and show it to someone. This is what we hope to achieve. If Otro helps people connect more, and motivates them to communicate, that would be incredible.

Layer: Can you talk about the specific features you’ve built with Layer?
AF: We use Layer for sending and receiving messages, stickers, photos, videos and voice messages. Every single one of those features is important. Layer means messages can be sent in Otro instantly, and the conversation — regardless of the content being sent — flows.

Layer: How did building on Layer impact your development process?
AF: Using Layer helped us to develop faster and focus more on the usability and design. We have a small team, and limited resources combined with fast development can be scary. Having Layer gives us confidence the app will work great. Sending and receiving messages needs to be secure, and we love that Layer takes care of that. Layer is the best platform for sharing messages, stickers, photos, videos, location info, etc. It’s fast, reliable and scalable. We’re really thankful for the collaboration and can’t wait to see what Layer enables in the future.

Layer: Where do you see the messaging space headed?
AF: People need more ways to convey what they want to say and in this fast paced world they need options. There’s also room for technology improvements, faster sending, better availability, etc. It’s interesting to see how some messaging apps are becoming all-in-one by adding features like online banking, mobile payments and social networking.The trend seems to be the augmentation of messenger apps. As for us, Otro has already shown it can produce a spark in people’s attention span, but evolving this spark into a continental fire is something we have to focus on. Right now, making that spark as bright and shiny as possible is our mantra.

Why I joined Layer

More than anything else, the Internet is about communication. It has made our world smaller and more connected, bringing us closer through shared experience. Emailing, instant messaging, commenting, posting, and tweeting have become familiar verbs that define our experience online. And each year our online experience has grown more and more entwined and synonymous with life in general. It’s no longer a distinct world “over there” — the closeness of our communication has profoundly redefined the online experience. Each time we announce an engagement or share a wedding photo, message a dear old friend to catch up or tweet at a complete stranger we don’t just communicate with each other: little by little we are humanizing the web.

Since I was very young I’ve been amazed and often overwhelmed by the transformative power of the Internet. In a very short time, we’ve seen the economy redefined with a new generation of technology powerhouses leading the way. The best minds of my generation are pondering new modes of education and commerce, the cornerstones of our society. Amazing. It has always been a dream of mine not just to be a part of this revolution, but to help shape and nurture its growth by contributing to the technological foundation that is its bedrock.

Very suddenly, when I wasn’t even looking for it, such an opportunity appeared. For the last four years I have been working on RestKit, a framework for iOS designed to empower developers to model and interact with web services via a simple, powerful API. I designed and developed the library and have written tons of documentation, sample code, and done my best to support a large community while holding down a day job. When Layer began searching for someone to lead the Applications team responsible for developing the SDKs and supporting the developer community they came across my work on RestKit, reached out, and now the rest is history.

At Layer, we are working to redefine the communications landscape and foster a new wave of innovation in the Internet revolution. By providing world-class communications infrastructure as a service, we offer organizations large and small the opportunity to add rich communications to their online experiences easily, at scale. And by providing access to this infrastructure via simple, robust client SDKs, we are empowering a new generation of developers to innovate and invent the future of communications by focusing on user experience and value, not data centers and protocols.

It’s an inspiring product, an amazing team, and a childhood dream fulfilled. I get up in the morning, drink my coffee, and spend my day inventing the future: that’s why I joined Layer.

Toasting 470 Alabama Street

Thanks to everyone who came out to celebrate our new Mission District workspace Tuesday night. It was a pleasure to meet so many developers and designers conceiving of the next great mobile and web product experiences, built on top of Layer.

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Spotlight on a Layer user: Web Summit

Editor’s note: We’re sharing the stories of the apps and developers who were chosen to receive early access to the Layer service.

Today’s Q&A is with Web Summit CTO Tony Ennis. Web Summit is the tech event to attend in Europe and it’s growing more than 100 percent year over year. This year was the first that the Web Summit team built its own app to enable communications at the event. We chose Web Summit’s to be among the first apps with access to Layer because of the opportunity it has to connect a global, growing community of like-minded people. Not just at the annual event, but leading up to it and afterward. Get to know Tony or any of the Web Summit people and, like us, you’ll think the sky’s the limit for what this team can do.

Web Summit

Layer: Tell us a bit about yourself. When did you join Web Summit and what did you do prior?
TE: I joined Web Summit 18 months ago, before the 2012 event. I’d always built software. Before joining the Web Summit team I built a social competition platform which we still use quite a bit in here. We were based in an Irish incubator called NDRC Launchpad before Paddy convinced me to join the team.

Layer: You guys are on fire. Last year’s event more than doubled, and this year’s did, too, right?
TE: Correct. Last year’s event went from 2,000 to more than 5,000 attendees but I think we hit a tipping point with 2013. The most unprecedented part, and the part we’re most excited about, is that at year’s event over 80% of our attendees were international. That’s 8,000 people from more than 90 countries visiting our little island.

Layer: Why do you think Web Summit has been so successful?
TE: We’ve got a great team that puts on a fantastic event. Our speakers team convinces the highest quality people to come and speak, our marketing team brings in great new attendees and our production team brings it all together and executes an amazing experience. Existing attendees then tell others what a great time they had and the cycle begins again. Frankly it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride – we just keep getting bigger and bigger and hearing that the event gets better and better. Next year’s event will be our best yet.

Layer: This was the first year you built your own app. What led you to the conclusion that you should?
TE: The longer our attendee list gets, the more difficult it becomes for our attendees to network and to separate the signal from the noise. Previously the numbers were small enough that this wasn’t a problem, but as I mentioned, we hit a tipping point this year. The event will (hopefully) continue to grow, and providing a meaningful networking experience for our attendees is something that we see as our responsibility and something that will be core to our success as we scale. There are lots of third party companies who provide tools to do this, but we put a lot of thought into it and ultimately decided that in order to provide a consistent, cross platform experience the best option was to build it ourselves.

Layer: How did it work out?
TE: We viewed this year as an experiment. We started by allowing anyone who bought a ticket to log in to thesummit.me, where they could edit their profile, update their details, connect their LinkedIn/Twitter accounts, and search through other attendees. We then built an API and released iOS, Android, and Windows apps which allowed people to search our entire attendee database by name, profession, industry, or country. People could then create lists of prospects, connect on LinkedIn, and chat in real time with anyone else attending the event. Because this was all powered by one API it was consistent across all of our mobile apps and online. Of course they also had the usual features such as viewing the agenda and venue map, favoriting time slots and getting more info on the event and side events.

Layer: And then you need to build the infrastructure. How did building the infrastructure go?
TE: Well, I’ll start by saying that the infrastructure was tricky because it wasn’t something we’d ever built before. Our main API consists of a simple rails app which stores attendees, companies, timeslots and other resources in a Postgres database. This part wasn’t too challenging, but we figured that building a chat API for several thousand concurrent users might be a little trickier. We decided the best option was to use Node.js as it could easily handle the type of concurrency we were looking for. We used MongoDB to store messages and conversations, and redis to interface between our main API and our chat API, allowing us to check certain user permissions without touching our main Postgres database. We then used Pusher to allow our mobile apps to send and receive messages in real time, and hosted everything on EngineYard. Our first line of code was written 7 weeks before the event, so as you can imagine it was an intense few weeks.

It was complicated, which shows you why using Layer makes a hell of a lot of sense. And this was just for simple messaging.

Layer: What’s the vision for the app going forward?
TE: Now that we’ve successfully built the basic features, we’re going to spend the next few months refining them, talking to attendees and improving. There’s a lot more stuff we want to build that we think will enhance the attendee experience, and the beauty of the nature of our events is that we have a full year to do it. We’re also considering opening up the API to allow others to build their own features.

For more information visit the 2014 Web Summit conference.

Introducing Layer

The Internet needs an open communications layer—cross-platform, and free from an advertising supported business model.

Developers that have tried to build rich, secure, scalable communications in their products know that it’s extremely hard to do right. Solving authentication, security, sync, offline messages, push notifications and a plethora of other problems is a challenge by itself. And then there’s infrastructure. It’s immensely difficult to build and expensive to set up high performance, global infrastructure. Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft are the only companies that can afford to spend millions, deploy huge teams, and cover the cost of a global infrastructure. Their platforms are not open, platform dependant, or rely on an advertising business model.

We started Layer to make rich, secure, scalable communications easy. Layer is the open communications layer for the Internet, enabling the power of communications in any mobile or web product.

We have designed Layer for fellow developers, we built it to solve all the hard bits of rich messaging, voice and video calls. Developers can focus on the core of their products.

We built it for all of us. Communication is a basic human need, and Layer will enable people around the world to better communicate. Layer is about giving developers and designers the freedom to dream up new app experiences, to delight their users and scale with confidence as their creations take off. We can’t wait to see what new, engaging, innovative products you build with it.

At Layer we’re developing full-stack communications. The open-sourced Layer UI kit helps developers provide a great user experience, fits nicely on top of the Layer SDK that exposes a series of Layer cloud services.

Just like you don’t have to build maps from scratch to add locations services, or an entire payments processing stack to collect a credit card payment, you no longer need to build a communications stack to send messages or make calls as a native part of your product.

The Layer team

We know a lot about building communications infrastructure.

Tomaz started Vox.io, a real-time communications company, with the singular aim of delivering a rich communications experience to its customers. He soon learned the lesson described above. He got sidelined building the infrastructure to support the service. In total Tomaž spent six years thinking through seemingly every complex detail of how to do it and do it well. Being a product designer, passionate about providing an amazing experience to his users, he had to learn more than he ever could have imagined about both the client side and the infrastructure required for a great communications service.

Ron was critical to the beginning and success of Grand Central, the much-loved telecommunications service. When Grand Central was acquired by Google (and became known as Google Voice) back in 2007, Ron temporarily shelved his many ideas for how to improve the communications landscape. But Ron too, learned a massive amount from his Grand Central experience and never stopped obsessing over it and the opportunities it left on the table to build a truly open, global communications platform.

Layer team

The Layer team is full of engineers and designers with a strong passion for making people communicate in a better way across all the products they use.

Core principles

As we introduce Layer, we want to share our core beliefs and commit to them publicly.

An open communication layer is good for everyone

We created an open platform where any and every service is welcome to play, where communication data can be easily migrated from service to service. People should be able to pick their preferred mode of communication without having to be locked in a walled garden. Open means we will all win.

Trust, privacy and security

We understand that developers and their end-users demand absolute privacy and security for their communications. We take this responsibility seriously. That means industry-best practices on all layers and active participation in making industry standards better.

It just works

We are committed to providing the easiest way to integrate communications in any mobile or web product. Layer takes care of the hard bits and the infrastructure so developers can focus on the core experience of their products.

Enable creators of great experiences

Some pricing models of developer-geared communications services are less than perfect, making quick growth extremely expensive due to per-transaction billing. At Layer we will always offer a free tier for low volume products, and only charge once an app gets meaningful traction. We succeed as our developers succeed.

Developers love Layer

For the past few months we’ve been working closely with tons of developers building amazing products — from productivity tools, healthcare apps, marketplaces, dating services, games to a series of other use cases. We listened, we worked hard and obsessed with every detail so that they truly love Layer.

Today, we are opening our early access program with the first 50 available slots. If you want to add messaging, voice or video to your product, we welcome you to sign up for early access.

We are excited to see the amazing experiences you will build with Layer!

Get early access
Get in touch with us on Twitter or email us at hello@layer.com