I’ve long been a big fan of the great work Souktel do and the latest offering from them only validates that further. At the recent MERLTech conference, Souktel introduced their latest release – a new suite of integrated messaging apps where users can send and receive images, audio and video files, text and voice calls all via WhatsApp, Viber and Facebook messenger. This is in addition to the standard channels such of SMS and voice. Integration across all channels allows for broad and inclusive community engagement across a range of devices. Not only does this mean that basic phones will not be excluded, but it also allows more sophisticated tools to be designed for the ever-growing smartphone market. The following benefits of Souktel's latest offerings were noted by CEO Jacob Korenblum in their recent press release.
More options for engaging with communities.
Significant cost savings.
High adoption rates.
For those working within ICT4D, the utility of a more adaptable method of communicating provides great benefits. As Souktel point out, bundling access to multiple messaging apps in one place allows, for example, "low-literacy farmers to send in photos of their crops, and get extension advice via Viber audio clip". Additionally, the reach of communication is not only extended, but there are cost-savings to the due to the solution allowing the project to choose the lowest-cost mobile channels wherever possible.
The offering from Souktel got me thinking about the number of different communication tools I use on a daily basis: WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, Skype, Instagram, Snapchat, Slack, Gmail, Outlook and the occasional SMS. Granted the context here is different to the challenges that Souktel is helping to overcome which relates more to the lack of access to agnostic technology, but it's actually ridiculous, tiring, and inefficient to think of how many times I have to open, or remember to check, each of these tools. I wonder whether it might be time for something like WeChat to take off in the UK market.
Most of us are aware of the huge success of WeChat and the suite of offerings it has. In China it has more than 500 million users and there is pretty much nothing you can't do on the app. It has voice, video, audio and chat, as well a the ability chat to strangers both nearby and across the world. It can be used to book train tickets, order dinner, play the lottery, pick out clothes and play video games. It's a remote control for your smart home, provides mobile banking services and you can even use it to renew your visa. Like those who are Insta-famous, WeChat also has its own celebrity WeChatters.
So why hasn't it taken off here in the UK? It seems the most common response is that the usefulness of the app really depends a critical mass of users, and it seems are all creatures of habits and not so willing to move away from the traditional tools we currently use. Whilst I recognise the benefits to innovation of competition, I'm certainly enticed by the ease of having to open just app each day to keep on top of my communication. Whilst I understand that the UK version of WeChat doesn't have a fraction of capabilities of the Chinese version, I'm curious. Therefore, I've downloaded the app and have begun trialling it today. So far I'm enjoying the ridiculous sticker range but after I get past that, I will try and coax some friends to join me and test out some of the other features. Watch this space for a report back in the not too distant future and please do share your thoughts on the app or the lack of uptake in the Western world.