The Messaging Wars are in full swing. Perennial favorite WhatsApp dominates with hundreds of millions of users worldwide, but apps like Kik and LINE aren’t far behind. Despite the incredible scale of the aforementioned apps, new ones launch every day, like MessageMe — which amassed one million users in the first two weeks of March. There's evidently still land to be claimed, aespecially since there's something missing from most of these apps: a web client. There's still no way to message WhatsApp friends from a computer, and the company isn't inclined to change that.
Today sees the launch of a totally refreshed version of Moped (pronounced mo-ped), a messaging app for iPhone, Android, and web. Until now the app has flown mostly under the radar, but raised $1 million in funding last June. Moped is a dead ringer for MessageMe, but also syncs messages to a web client like Facebook Messenger. The app plugs into third-party services like Dropbox for file-sharing, Foursquare for embedding places, Aviary for editing images, and IFTTT for custom alerts. This element gives Moped an edge in a market dominated by insular mobile-only apps that don’t play nice with outside services. And of course, the app works well for sending messages to people using an @ handle, almost like how direct messages work on Twitter. In a way, Moped is like Twitter direct messaging on steroids, and without the 140-character limit.
The latest version of Moped includes a gallery view of all the links, photos, and places you’ve shared or received. Like the Alto mail client, Moped intelligently filters out specific types of content you’re likely to refer back to, like that restaurant a friend recommended a month ago. There’s even a Chrome extension that lets you send a quick link to friends.
Berlin-based Moped founder Schuyler Deerman jokingly refers to many messaging apps as "eierlegende wollmilchsau," a German phrase that means "too good to be true." Whereas many messaging apps bloat up by shipping dozens of features like voice memos, stickers, and group chats, Deerman wants to leave that work to third-party developers. Moped isn't as polished as WhatsApp or as rock solid as Facebook Messenger, but it represents a messaging future inherently more "open" than what we're seeing today. Being able to share locations from Foursquare and files from Dropbox comes in handy quite a bit — especially since you can send them from a computer. "Let's check out this place after work," you might say, followed by an embedded (and linked) location from Foursquare.
Any messaging app requires the "network effect" to succeed: it’s only as fun as however many friends are using it
Moped's user base is small, and Deerman realizes that any messaging app requires the "network effect" to succeed: it’s only as fun as however many friends are using it. He and his team built a feature into the app so you can send emails from Moped to friends, and responses get fed right back into the app. In my tests the feature doesn't work very well, but is being improved, Deerman says. The idea is to provide the lowest possible barrier to entry for new users.
We’re yet to find the apotheosis of multi-platform messaging, an always-in-sync open protocol that lets you attach anything to your messages. Moped helps illustrate that one messaging service might not necessarily win. In fact, Moped's features probably aren't enough to convince most people to switch from WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or iMessage, since it's yet one more app to download, and one more app to convince your family and friends to use. Part of the reason instant messaging apps like Google Talk or AIM became so popular is because they allowed users to try clients of all shapes and sizes across a large spectrum of simple to complex. Yet, most messaging apps today don't integrate with outside services — something that needs to change — and Moped is on the forefront of that. "We’re not trying to reinvent everything," says Deerman. "We’re just trying to build a platform so people can reinvent stuff."