Chat apps: an exciting new platform for news providers

Trushar Barot worked on the launch of the world’s first news service for the WhatsApp platform during the 2014 Indian elections and also on the award-winning Ebola ‘lifeline’ WhatsApp information service. If anyone knows anything about the closing gap between news organisations and chat apps, it’s Trushar.

Now, he’s the mobile editor for the BBC World Service Group and has just published the research paper ‘Guide to Chat Apps’, giving an insight into the relationship between chat apps and the news, so when he took to the podium at news:rewired, in London today, there was barely standing room in the conference hall.

Here is a summary of the key themes Trushar has identified:

  • People are adopting use of chat apps at a rapid rate – and while still experimental, there already five key apps:
  1. Whats App – the most popular chat app, but Trushar says it will need to change certain functionality (such as improved group messaging) to maintain its competitive advantage
  2. Snapchat – a new function ‘Snapchat Discover’ allows publishers to produce a greater range of mixed media packages, opening up a new level of possibilities
  3. Telegram – Open source. High encryption Popular in countries like Iran
  4. Firechat – Uses Bluetooth geo-connectivity and allows people to communicate when mobile networks are down. Used in the Hong Kong protests
  5. Hike – second biggest chat app in India – focuses on local areas and uses emojis and stickers for mass communication
  • Chat apps are more than just faddish – there’s an expectation for them to improve. There is even now a chorus of complaints coming from users and news organisations for the app publishers to create better platforms – for example getting API’s to allow people to play around with services.
  • Chat apps are really still in their infancy and haven’t figured out the kind of relationship they want with news consumers and providers – relationship and data developments will come in the near future – but we’re not there yet

As Barot explained, the future of journalism is at a very exciting point, where organisations are experimenting with all kinds of story telling techniques. Chat apps are an interesting tool for engaging news consumers, he said, but within this ‘genre’ there are many routes that are yet to be explored. Last year, he added, marked just the start of the partnership for news and chat apps, but the final destination is yet unknown.

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