Can blockchain build a better messaging app?
by Dennis H. Lewis
Developers in Hong Kong, across Asia, and worldwide are working on blockchain messaging applications that could be the future competition of widely used services such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Making a better messaging app
So, what's the problem with current messaging services?
One limitation is their rather pedestrian functionality of messaging apps when dealing with large groups. It's a pain if you want to manage a group of more than, say, 10 people.
Many messaging apps don't have features such as group video conferences. Users have acclimated to video chatting on FaceTime and Skype, and would expect that this feature to be available in a group messaging setting, too.
Another underutilized piece of hardware in smartphones is the GPS receiver, which can leverage location-based information in an app to produce helpful functionality, such as suggestions for local businesses to patronize.
More importantly for messaging, location services can be used to show users when their friends or contacts are nearby, facilitating social interaction both online and offline.
Finally, there's the issue of security. Just how "encrypted" are communications sent by traditional messaging apps? What happens when they reach their destination?
They can live on indefinitely on another user's device and on servers, but some communications are too sensitive to be treated in such a fashion. And if you're trying to conduct business or negotiate financial transactions — well, forget it!
Fortunately, forward-thinking messaging apps — some recently released, others on the horizon — harness the ingenuity of developers and the excitement of the blockchain movement to deliver something wholly different and, ultimately, better.
Mark Cuban and Dust
Developed by Radical App and positioned as a "safer way to text," Dust, is a security-first endeavor that uses blockchain to encrypt messages. All messages automatically "dust," or disappear, after 24 hours … or as soon as they are read, depending on the preference of the end user.
Communications are never stored on phones or servers, nor are they accessible to the team at Radical. Similar to Snapchat, the user is notified if a screenshot of their content is taken, and a sender's identity in one-on-one messaging scenarios is hidden.
There's an additional layer here, too. Cleverly, Dust leverages blockchain to combat bullying. The app uses "Mercury Protocol," which requires the user to spend tokens and rewards good behavior. Tokens quite literally cost more for bullies and those with a negative reputation, compared with the "texting angels" among us.
The Mercury Protocol is still an emerging effort following the mid-2017 release of Dust, but billionaire investor Mark Cuban sees the app and its underlying protocol as a way to "generate revenue from participation rather than making its users the product."
The team in Asia
Anyone aching for a messaging client that enables in-app financial transactions paired with advanced group chat functionality will be happy to know that there's about to be an app for that.
Footprint Media Holdings Corp. is developing SuchApp, a smartphone app that combines a high-quality messaging service with social networking features and a digital wallet for the management of cryptocurrency. The company is headquartered in Hong Kong and two of its four development teams on the project are based in Asia.
The unique concept behind SuchApp is the inclusion of a digital wallet for the secure storage of cryptocurrency within the messaging app. The app will use a utility called SP Coin for the initial token sale and for the creation of loyalty and bonus programs. These funds will be stored in a digital wallet that forms a part of the messaging ecosystem.
The digital wallet will enable users to send and receive payments from contacts anywhere in the world. This encourages the growth of an in-app economy where participants can trade their currency for goods or services.
And because digital assets can be stored within the app, the blockchain economy can be expanded even to users who aren't technically involved enough to invest in cryptocurrency independently. The app also includes a debit and gift card system to support trade within the community.
The potential benefits of blockchain integration within chat and digital wallet applications notwithstanding, challenges do exist — not only in Asia but worldwide..
Three significant issues currently present pain points:
- Cryptocurrencies are highly speculative. These digital currencies are subject only to limited regulations. As a results, bitcoin, Ethereum, and other cryptocurrencies are prone to fluctuation and even outright manipulation.
Transaction values can spike and drop precipitously at a moment's notice, and this type of volatility may dissuade chat app users — often a more casual demographic — from adopting digital wallet functionality.
- Digital wallet assets can be lost irretrievably. The incorporation of digital technology can be a great convenience in a chat application. However, because blockchain is centralized, it can also be tempting to hackers. And if the wallet in an app should be hacked, no FDIC or other governing body will step in on your behalf. Your funds are forever lost.
- Issues with "futureproofing." A blockchain requires "nodes" to operate. These nodes can signal and prompt for software optimization from time to time, which can result in a fork (or forks!) in that blockchain.
A fork runs new software that contains the same blockchain history as the original, but does not accept the same transactions. This creates the potential for further uncertainty in an already speculative currency.
Is it worth taking the good with the bad? Consumers will have to decide. However, one certainty in an otherwise uncertain time of digital and financial upheaval is that blockchain integration is coming to many of your current and future favorite apps. Will you be onboard?
Dennis H. Lewis is a digital storyteller and ICO marketing specialist in both Europe and the United States. He has successfully led to market multiple startups, and prides himself on his ability to make complex projects easy to understand and relatable.