Instant messaging (IM) is a great example of an industry fully owned by big corporations that views users as an asset to buy and sell. Nobody cares about their interests. However, the new wave of blockchain-based solutions has the potential to fix this and eventually put the user in the spotlight.
Centralization as a problem
The most popular IM apps today are centralized: WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, Telegram. Such apps can use different technologies (some use P2P, others don't), however, all of them are designed so that messages travel within their network of servers.
Systems that have a central server that is responsible for messenger transfers are prone to a number of different problems. Downtime is one of them – it is not rare event that popular messenger team tweets about their service being unavailable for users (sometimes for entire countries), with a promise to fix everything ASAP. For example, recently Telegram suffered a severe outage which resulted in their users in Europe, Middle East, and the CIS countries experiencing connection issues.
The server may break but it may also be hacked. For example, recently a security researcher managed to exploit a loophole in the Facebook Messenger security system to obtain thousands of names, pictures, and location data of users who link their mobile phone number with an account. There was no need to actually hack anything, he just used a little-known privacy setting allowing anyone to find a Facebook user by typing his or her phone number into the search bar.
The biggest issue with traditional centralized messengers is, for sure, the lack of privacy. The majority of these communication tools claim to be free for users, meaning that while there is no fee for using a certain app, the real motivation is to sell the user himself. Messengers get access to phone numbers, address books, location data, IP addresses — everything. This can then be used for advertising or sold to corporations. As it turns out, users have no control over how and where their data will be used — as it was revealed during the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal.
The blockchain can solve all these problems, and there are a number of projects, currently working on a solution.
However, until recently all of these solutions were aimed at security geeks or internal users of a certain organization, which did not allow them to reach a certain degree of popularity.
While such messengers may be better in terms of privacy, it is important to note that privacy itself is not enough to attract lots of users nowadays. People also need a level of comfort, comparable to what they get using "conventional" messengers.
Teams of new wave blockchain communication problem solvers are trying to solve this task. For example, developers of the ADAMANT messenger are working not only on security (all messages stored in the blockchain) and transparency (all source code is open to the public) but building their tool as a platform for connecting other services. It allows independent developers to connect their own tools — like the recently added push notifications module. Another important usability upgrade allows the sending of cryptocurrency payments (Ether, Bitcoin, Lisk) directly in the messages. This can allow use cases such as a company's sales rep discussing goods and services with the customer and getting the payment instantly via chat.
There are also some examples of apps which allow users to reduce spending on mobile roaming by accessing the blockchain platform and selecting tariff plans provided by mobile operators from around the world.
One of the world's most popular messengers is WeChat. It is not only a messenger but a platform for communication, payment gateway etc. To achieve better results than the first wave of crypto and blockchain-based messengers that have remained as toys for security geeks, new ones should not focus only on privacy (which is very important), but also offer a user experience comparable to what centralized platforms provide. This is the only chance of competing with them.