Google in fresh bid to conquer messaging space with launch of Allo after ‘graveyard of failure’

Google will attempt to leave behind its chequered past in the messaging space in a launch that will see it go head-to-head with iMessage, What’s App and Facebook Messenger.


The tech giant is on the verge of unveiling Google Allo, a smart messaging app that will incorporate artificial intelligence and provide marketers with another way – in an increasingly head-spinning number of ways – to reach consumers.

Allo will enable users to search and make reservations through Google Assistant while in the app, while text and image messages will be analysed and responses suggested based on conversation history.

It will launch in combination with a new Google phone, called Pixel which is almost certain to have Allo pre-loaded.


Google posted this teaser image of the Pixel phone online

Allo will also be available on IOS and Android.

Douglas Nicol, founder of On Message, a start-up agency launched by The Works, said Google, despite its power and influence, had been left behind by competitors in the messaging space, describing the search behemoth as the “odd one out”.

“Google has had a sad history in trying to own social media. The graveyard is extensive,” Nicol said. “There was Google Buzz, Google Friend Connect, Google Wave, the list of failure goes on.

“Google Plus has appeared to a certain targeted group and is ok but you wouldn’t describe it as a scaled success by any means.


Douglas Nicol: Google has a graveyard of failure

“The big question about Allo is does it have enough differentiation to earn a place in people’s messaging repertoire?”

While that remains to be seen, Nicol said consumers use two to three messaging apps,on average, which offers some hope that Allo could muscle in on more established rivals.

“The good thing for Allo is that consumers don’t get into bed with one messaging app. Australian men in particular have a wider repertoire so my prediction is that men are more likely to get involved. Google skews to males anyway so maybe they could get a foothold there.”

Key to its success – or otherwise – will be how Google differentiates Allo from rivals, which on the surface it appears to have done, Nicol added.

“Snapchat have done brilliantly because they came in with so many points of difference in the messaging world. They earned a place,” he said, “And from what I have seen Allo has got a few features that could succeed in earning Google a place.”

He said the “smart reply” function, which uses AI to study replies over time and then predicts how you want to answer certain messages, has potential, as does Google Assistant which acts as a virtual personal assistant.

"Snapchat have done brilliantly because they came in with so many points of difference. They earned a place" said Nicol

“Snapchat have done brilliantly because they came in with so many points of difference. They earned a place” said Nicol

The function enables users to search while having a conversation in the Allo app and make bookings, whether it be a flight or restaurant.

“I sound cynical but Allo could earn a place because it is messaging for lazy people,” he said. “With smart reply it starts to communicate for you and you just click on the suggested sentence which appears on the bottom of the screen.

“It’s if you want to outsource your thinking to a machine and you barely want to use your thumb.

“The integrated Google Assistant is also for the lazy person who can’t be arsed to go to Google when they are talking.

“Between smart reply and Google Assistant you barely need to think because you are outsourcing your thinking. We are all getting pretty lazy. Our brains are changing. How often do people think, ‘who was that actor in that film?’ People Google it rather than training their brains to think back.

“AI will start to play a much bigger role in our lives.

“The question is whether these features will be enough to provide them with an opportunity in the messaging space.”

Dan Monheit, co-founder of Hardhat Digital, agreed that Google has, so far, failed to make its mark, but said the increasing use of AI could play a key role.

Dan Monheit - director of strategy at Hardhat Digital

Monheit: “AI is now at a point where we are accelerating at an exponential rate”

“We have been chipping away at AI for the past 25 years and only now are we at a point where we are accelerating at an exponential rate,” he said. “What is exciting is that AI is now good enough and it’s improving.”

For Google, seeing consumers “leave their ecosystem” by disappearing to Facebook Messenger, iMessage or What’s App has been hard to stomach.

“It doesn’t have sight of what we are doing when we leave the Google ecosystem and they want to get a complete picture of us,” he said.

With messaging becoming mainstream – Nicol said it is the primary form of communication with friends and family for 3.5m Australians – Monheit said it was important for Google to get it

“Google may have been too early with products like Google Buzz – or they may just have got it wrong,” he told Mumbrella. “But messaging now feels mainstream so they will want to make their mark.”

One of Google’s issues in the messaging field is that it has been playing catch up and reacting to rivals rather than leading the way, On Message’s Nicol said.

“Fear is not the mother of great invention,” he said. “That is where Google has gone wrong and why they have a graveyard of failed initiatives in social media.

“They have been on the back foot and if you are always reacting or trying to copy the competition as opposed to thinking about what people need in their lives, you are in trouble.

“If you understand what people think are cool, what they think is useful, or going to support them in their lives, then that is the mother of great invention.

“But I never underestimate Google because as soon as you effectively integrate things like the Google database into a messaging platform through VI, it’s a pretty powerful thing.”


Monheit predicted that while marketers will not be overly excited by Allo, the explosion of messaging as a key form of communication will heighten the need for brands to be on the platform.

“The biggest step is the expectation that consumers have in the way they intertface with other humans and organisations,” he said.. “It is becoming so smart and effortless.”


Zillinger: “There is a first mover advantage to be taken”

Niklas Zillinger, experience design lead at SapientNitro, said Google will have ambitions to become the primary messaging app despite playing catch up with established players in the market.

He said Google’s use of AI will accelerate the ability to provide one-to-one marketing, something that is the “holy grail” but which brands have yet to perfect.

“Many marketers still think in terms of traditional channels,” he said, adding there are few examples of marketers using messaging proficiently.

“There is a first mover advantage to be taken,” he said.

Zillinger, writing in Mumbrella, added: “Messaging – especially relevant conversations – is highly dependent on sophisticated use of contextual data. Thus analytics tools will have to address a broader spectrum beyond owned touchpoints.

“It’ll be essential to track and connect customer messages, their behaviour and their use of related services.”

He added the integration of VI systems was the “next step”.

“It’s the only way to economically scale one-to-one conversations to all customers,” Zillinger wrote.


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