The Future of Text Symposium

Brian Maggi  was invited on behalf of Cola to speak at the Future of Text Symposium on August 25, 2016 to present findings and predictions on the effects of texting on written and visual communication. The presentation, entitled “Bringing Structure to Realtime Conversations” is broken up into multiple blog posts. This first one, is about how texting has changed behaviors.

Messaging1 is like a new continuum. It’s not quite realtime, and it’s not quite asynchronous. It’s more like both, and the user can choose. It’s like realtime in that you can capture someone’s attention immediately, even though maintaining it can be hard. It’s also asynchronous in that you can answer right now, in a minute, or whenever you get to it.

This quasi-realtime helps explain why messaging has become so popular so quickly. It makes up 75% of mobile traffic now. According to a Gallup poll from 2015, texting is the preferred mode of communication for people under 50. They would rather text than email, or talk on the phone.

People love texting whether we like to admit it or not. As the industry shifts from a mobile-first mindset to one of text-first, we are noticing some major changes in people’s everyday behavior.

No one calls out of the blue as often as they used to, sometimes never. Most people now send a text before calling someone, usually out of courtesy. In some cases, those phone calls never happen because a text is all it takes. I wouldn’t jump to conclusions that people want to avoid talking to each other. It’s just they want to avoid what they feel are unnecessary phone calls.

People are in more than one conversation at a time. Metaphorically, texting allows you to be in more than one place at a time. Most people are able to keep more than one text conversation going at the same time, even while their participating in face-to-face conversations.

The Workification of our personal life People rely on texting to converse with personal contacts while working and vice versa. It’s not always socially acceptable, but we call this the “workifcation of personal technology”. That is, texting enables us to be socially productive. We’re finding the tools we associate with work, such as scheduling and to-do list, are useful to manage our personal lives.

These insights, and more, got us thinking: what would a text-only world look like? What will people do in a world where they rely 100% on their smartphone and texting to get things done? Following are some predictions.

Group texting will be the social network

If you look at group texts, it’s not always conversational or transactional. Many group texts start to mimic the way we use Facebook. People share pictures, post thoughts etc. It’s as if the group thread has taken on a life of its own and evolves into a mini content management system. Expect to see people deliberately using their group texts more as a container for ideas than just a thread with 3 or more people on it.

Collaborating over text

As more people use texting as their primary mode of communication, they will use it for more robust forms of communication such as collaboration and coordination. A significant portion of group texts are about coordination and making plans, but typing text back and forth limits what you can accomplish. As more people start to see text as their primary conduit, they will need better tools to facilitate other types of communication.

Presence and engagement will be a thing

Making sure people know you are paying attention in the moment is extremely important. I hate to even have to say something so obvious, but texting makes it challenging. In face to face conversations, it’s obvious when someone is distracted by a text. Or when people go silent in a texting thread. However, not every conversation requires you to be focused 100% all the time. In many cases we can ask quick questions and provide quick answers and still keep moving. We predict as people find themselves in multiple conversations at once, they’re going to want solutions that help them maintain a sense of being present and engaged in conversations.

The follow-up blog posts will dive deeper into how we address these issues with Cola and bubbles. Stay tuned.


(1) We use the term “texting” and “messaging” interchangeably to describe communicating via text messages between mobile devices. More often than not, that device is a smartphone.