The age of the smartphone, making communication more complicated one day at a time

My smartphone is my lifeline.  It is the only thing that I own that is literally almost always less than 10 feet away from me.  It is a tool like nothing I have ever used, and the versatility it has is unparalleled.  It is my all-in-one communication device, and my gateway to the world.  If you want to get a hold of me, chances are that it will come through to my phone in some form.  That ability is very powerful, and something I've come to rely on, but that ability has also led to a huge problem with cell phones and how we communicate today.  Let me explain.

I said that no matter how you are trying to get in touch with me, it is likely that it will, in some form or another, come to my phone.  The problem with that is the sheer number of ways that someone can get in touch with me.  Looking at my phone right now, here are all of the communications methods on it, in no particular order: SMS, gmail, Facebook, Facebook messenger, Google +, Google + messenger, Google Talk(though this is starting to merge with messenger), Live Profile, GroupMe, Tweetdeck (and the official twitter app), foursquare, BeeJive IM, and Skype.  Oh, yea, and it is also a phone too.  If you include both twitter apps, though I only really use the official one for contact sync, that is thirteen separate ways to communicate with me on my smartphone.  Now, There are a few that I don't use often.  Groupme, for example, is one that I signed up for simply to make sure that I could get my identity. I don't actually have any contacts in it yet.  LiveProfile is similar.  I used it to talk with a couple people, but haven't opened it in a couple weeks now.  Others are used almost continuously, like SMS and Twitter.  Now, the easy answer is that I should just cut down on some of those services.  I don't really use something like LiveProfile or GroupMe, but I have them because I want to make sure that I have those services under the online identity that I use, so all of them are there for that reason at the very least.

What I think this really points to, however, is the sheer stupidity of the state of communications right now.  The simple fact that there are thirteen different ways of talking to me through my phone is kind of absurd.  As technology and communication is evolving, different services are popping up, and it's creating fragmentation that is worse than I think we've ever seen.  I hate talking on the phone.  I of course do it, a good part of my job involves talking on the phone (that may be part of the reason why I hate it, truthfully), but if there is another way of getting in contact with someone than over the phone, I will probably do it.  So in many ways, the ability to communicate in other ways is awesome, but the fact is that there are too many ways to do it now.  SMS is simple and everyone has it, but some people don't like it, Twitter is a fantastic tool for communication, but there are more people I know who don't use it than do.  Pretty much everyone uses Facebook, but I personally hate Facebook so I try not to use it unless I have to, Google+ is a growing tool that is still finding the way in this market.  It may end up thriving, it may die. No one is really sure yet.  Email is email, and all of the other IM/messagaing apps are, well, IM/messaging apps.  The problem is that each one has a purpose, and while the concept of each is roughly the same, there is actually very little overlap on how I use each service.

I really started to think about this when I looked at my phone after dinner one day and I literally had an email, text message, Twitter reply, twitter direct message, Facebook message, an IM from LiveProfile, a missed call notification and a voicemail.  With the exception of the two different twitter messages and the fact that the missed call and voicemail both use the phone dialler, each one of those required me to go into a separate app to read/reply to the message.  Now, the fact that my smartphone can aggregate all of those messages is fantastic, but it doesn't change the fact that I had to go into 6 different applications just to se them all.

WebOS, of all things, actually has tried to alleviate this issue since version 1.0 in 2009.  WebOS synergy is an effort to combine not just contacts, as Android can do now, but also how we communicate.  WebOS' messaging app included support for SMS and IM networks together.  The theory was that you could send someone a message through the messaging app, and it would go to them in whatever way it could, through IM if possible, or if not, through SMS, and you could receive messages the same way, and the messages would form one thread or conversation, with each message having an indicator as to which service it was sent/received.  The goal of Synergy was always to make it open for more services to hook in to, so everything could go through there.  It was a great idea that ended up going nowhere because Palm and later HP completely failed WebOS.  Facebook has even tried something similar with the revamping of their messaging services.  They have tried to combine so messages, chat, and email all appear in a single thread for users.  It is again a good idea in theory, but I have found Facebook's implementation less than stellar, especially with their terrible chat UI.

Now, while this is partly just the fact that the age of smartphones is still very young.  Some of these apps like LiveProfile and GroupMe probably will be gone within 18 months or so, and that's part of the process.  Some of those services will fold, others will be bought by larger companies and absorbed like the Beluga messaging service being bought by Facebook earlier this year.  I don't think we'll ever be rid of the fact that we will have 4-5 things that we will need to look at, but my hope is that some of these things merge or die off.  We need 2 or 3 dominant services after SMS, and that's it.  All I know is that the current state of messaging and communications, especially on mobile devices, is out of control and needs to be corrected.