WhatsApp, as it currently is, has its place in Africa but that place might well be passing. They have helped people come online, communicate with loved ones and create some special kinds of bonds. But for some reasons, they have decided not to take the next step in this relationship.
What is the next step? Well, it is basically creating or enabling a platform to support business-oriented communications.
With the uprising of new businesses and startups at an alarming rate, most of which are bootstrapped, it is very important for businesses to:
1. Look for ways of keeping cost low, while still offering great services.
2. Meet the users of their products or services where they are most comfortable.
One effective way of reducing cost is by hiring just enough customer care personnel and automating as much of your operations as possible. Also, to conveniently conduct business activities on platforms where the customers are comfortable, Instant Messaging (IM) clients must be one of the platforms in high consideration.
Out of these two criteria, WhatsApp does not officially support the first (there is absolutely no official way to automate messaging on WhatsApp) and the second can only be achieved by putting someone on standby to respond to customer’s WhatsApp messages as they arrive.
Telegram is basically WhatsApp on steroids.
Wouldn’t it be nice to let WhatsApp handle routine and predefined activities, like booking a hotel on Hotels.ng, recharging your call credit on Quickteller or requesting an airport pickup on Tiketmobile (yes, that’s mine), while these business only handle scenarios that need human intervention?
Well, that is where Telegram comes in.
A couple of weeks back, a Twitter friend introduced me to Telegram. Telegram is basically WhatsApp on steroids. Apart from the obvious multi-platform messaging feature, it offers the following features:
Reserve twitter-like usernames.
Immensely secure messaging.
Device message synchronisation (along with apps for mobile operating systems, they have apps for all desktop platforms).
Top-notch message privacy, offering secret chat features with which you can securely send anything, even your credit card numbers.
Open protocol and API (THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT).
Being a technology geek and interested in bootstrapping technology businesses, the major attraction for me and my friends was the availability of a programmable API. This meant that we could use the API to build bots (custom made instructions that interacts with other regular users, like a regular user) which tells Telegram to do routine and recurrent stuff and maybe alert us whenever shit gets real, while we focus on other things.
After downloading Telegram, trying out a number of custom built bots and seeing several innovative ways of accepting input from users (including, regular keypads, regular buttons, buttons with emoji, command strings), I couldn’t stop wishing that WhatsApp had just an API at the very least.
Telegram actively evangelises the ‘Bot Revolution’, which I’m actually excited to promote.
But it’s not like there are no APIs for WhatsApp at all. In fact, there is a number of very good unofficial WhatsApp APIs. Even though WhatsApp refused to release an official API, some amazing software developers have successfully circumvented WhatsApp by creating ‘API Proxies’ to enable automation on WhatsApp.
However, WhatsApp has made it their duty to either shut them down or issue a ‘seize and desist’ to them, because they are actually illegal. The latest being the amazing looking WhaTools. Below are tweets on the demand by WhatsApp and what the effect of flouting those demands would be.
Right now, WhatsApp only permits personal, friend-to-friend messaging and frown at engineers who reverse engineering their application. This is clearly stated in their policy statement. So no matter how amazing these third party tool are, it’s risky to build a business around any of them.
The reverse is the case for Telegram. In fact, Telegram actively evangelises the ‘Bot Revolution’, which I’m actually excited to promote.
Applications built for Telegram using the Telegram APIs are called bots and they can be anything: game bots or quiz bots, hook-up bots or ratings bots, alarm clock bots or direction bots, whatever you can think of, a bot can be created for it.
Being a software engineer myself, I dived into the API documentation and created an aggregator for some popular Nigerian blogs. How it works?
Depending on the command you invoke, it would return a series of blogposts published since 00:00 on the particular day you made the request. If you use Telegram (if you don’t, download it) search for the @DailyGistBot and add it.
Businesses processes that would definitely benefit from having a Telegram bot are:
Some e-commerce services such as Hotels.ng currently offer WhatApp and BBM booking service. I spoke with the CEO, Mark Essien and he said they maintain a staff with a tablet who responds to requests placed via WhatsApp. With the Telegram Bot Revolution, this can change and this physical staff would no longer be needed. If they have a properly engineered bot, they would only need to have a direct interaction with a customer after their booking, as they would normally do with the website. This is also applicable to other similar services such as Traclist.com or Tiketmobile.com.
General customer enquiries and FAQs
It would be nice if a consumer can find out all they need about a service just by querying them via IM. It would be even nicer and very cost effective for the business owners if these IM queries aren’t handled by actual people. The Telegram Bot Revolution makes this possible.
Conducting surveys, product research, opinion polls and soliciting feedback
It is usually said that people hardly respond to surveys. But imagine if the surveys are presented to the consumers in an environment they are actually comfortable at. Also, you can get very precise response to product research or polls while your user does what they enjoy doing: chatting. Finally picture your users pouring out their emotions using popular emoji while giving you feedback.
All these things and many more are possible via the Telegram Bot Revolution.
So what are the next steps? The next frontier and drivers of Instant Messaging is business, and Telegram has proven to be in the forefront of this by opening up a platform for business growth. With the recent launch of Android One by Google, dirt cheap smartphones would proliferate into the hands of everyday Africans. Their first point of call is arguably instant messaging. It is now up to business owners to take advantage of this and meet consumers where they are arguably most comfortable.
As for WhatsApp, I hope they wake up soon enough and either update their policy to support third-party APIs or release an official API. Otherwise, Telegram would inevitably grow bigger. Not only would they eat WhatsApp’s lunch, they would also become the preferred IM for businesses to communicate with clients.
Internet users who are adept with Facebook’s history will always point out how Facebook experienced explosive growth after launching the Facebook Platform in 2007. Given they’re the current caretakers of WhatsApp, I hope they don’t overlook that very important part of their history.
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