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The Evolution of Instant Messaging

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The concept of instant messaging crossed into the mainstream in the 1990s, allowing friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and like-minded thinkers from all over the world to connect in real-time.

Since then, instant messaging has revolutionized how we communicate, and today over 2.5 billion people are signed up for at least one messaging app. The present IM experience is seamless, and it intuitively integrates features like video, photos, voice, e-commerce, and gaming with plain-old messaging.

However, despite the impressive features of dominant apps like Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, and Whatsapp, today’s technology would simply not be possible without the earlier breakthroughs of their more rudimentary predecessors.

Instant Messaging: Past, Present, and Future

The following infographic from Hello Pal, a messaging app allowing for instant translation, shows the evolution of instant messaging. It pays homage to the advancements made in the early days by apps such as ICQ or AIM, while also looking at the trends in IM that will surface in the coming years.

The Evolution of Instant Messaging

While messaging is commonplace today, it was only two decades ago that chatting with friends and strangers online was a revolutionary concept.

The History of Instant Messaging

1961 – MIT’s Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS), along with other multi-user operating systems, helps to pioneer instant messaging by allowing up to 30 users to chat in real-time.

1988 – Internet Relay Chat (IRC) allows users to connect to networks with client software to chat with groups in real-time. IRC peaked in popularity in the 1990s, but still has hundreds of thousands of users today.

The late 1990s sees the first major competing IM platforms arrive: ICQ, AIM, MSN, and Yahoo all fight for market share in the new instant messaging market.

1992 – The first SMS message, “Merry Christmas”, is sent over the Vodafone GSM network in the U.K. in December.

1996 – Israeli company Mirabilis launches ICQ, which allowed users to chat one-on-one or in groups, exchange files, and search for other users. At its peak in 2001, ICQ had over 100 million accounts registered.

1997 – AOL launches AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), which pioneers the “Buddy List” concept. By the mid-2000s, AIM has the largest share of the instant messaging market in North America with 52%.

1998 – Yahoo! Messenger launches, allowing users with a Yahoo! ID to connect.

1999 – Microsoft releases MSN Messenger, a competitor to AIM and Yahoo. By 2005, roughly 2.5 billion messages are sent each day on the platform.

1999 – Across the Pacific Ocean, Tencent Holdings launches its first successful app. It’s called QQ, and it is initially a near-exact clone of ICQ.

To many, the 2000s is a Golden Age for instant messaging. Sharing photos, making video calls, and playing games are now common platform features

2001: By this time, only 30 million SMS text messages are sent per month in the United States.

2002: Apple launches iChat for its Mac OS X operating system, which is compatible with AIM.

2003: Skype allows Internet users to communicate with others through video, voice and instant messaging.

2005: Google Talk, available in a Gmail user’s window, is launched to allow easy communication between email contacts.

2006: MySpace launches the first instant messaging platform built within a social network: MySpaceIM.

2006: Market Snapshot (US Market)

  • AIM: 53 million
  • MSN: 27 million
  • Yahoo: 22 million
  • Google: 866,000

2006: By this time, 12.5 billion SMS text messages were sent each month in the United States

2008: Facebook Chat is released, allowing Facebook users to message friends or groups of friends on the social network. (Later on, Facebook would release a standalone mobile app version called Facebook Messenger in 2011.)

2009: An upstart WhatsApp allows users to text, send video, and audio for free.

Instant messaging undergoes a renaissance in the 2010s, as new apps like Snapchat, WhatsApp, and WeChat change how the game is played.

The popularity of new platforms change the concept of messaging entirely:

WeChat (2011)
Initially started by Tencent as a clone of WhatsApp, WeChat is now much more than a chat app. It’s a fully integrated mobile platform with shopping, payments, games, and much more.

WeChat processed $46 billion in payments in January 2016 – that’s about as twice as much as Paypal.

Snapchat (2011)
Snapchat, which is popular with millennials, allows users to send “snaps” which disappear after an allotted amount of time.

The app has evolved into a mix of private and public content, including brand networks and coverage of live events.

Slack (2013)
Slack’s workplace collaboration software allows teams to communicate easily and efficiently.

Slack was the fastest company to hit “unicorn” status ever, taking just 1.25 years to be worth over $1 billion.

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Visualizing the Size of Amazon, the World’s Most Valuable Retailer

Amazon’s valuation has grown by 2,830% over the last decade, and the tech giant is now worth more than the other 9 largest U.S. retailers, combined.

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Visualizing the Size of the World’s Most Valuable Retailer

As brick-and-mortar chains teeter in the face of the pandemic, Amazon continues to gain ground.

The retail juggernaut is valued at no less than $1.4 trillion—roughly four times what it was in late 2016 when its market cap hovered around $350 billion. Last year, the Jeff Bezos-led company shipped 2 billion packages around the world.

Today’s infographic shows how Amazon’s market cap alone is bigger than the nine biggest U.S. retailers put together, highlighting the palpable presence of the once modest online bookstore.

The New Normal

COVID-19’s sudden shift has rendered many retail outfits obsolete.

Neiman Marcus, JCPenney, and J.Crew have all filed for bankruptcy as consumer spending has migrated online. This, coupled with heavy debt loads across many retail chains, is only compounding the demise of brick-and-mortar. In fact, one estimate projects that at least 25,000 U.S. stores will fold over the next year.

Still, as safety and supply chain challenges mount—with COVID-19 related costs in the billions—Amazon remains at the top. It surpasses its next closest competitor, Walmart, by $1 trillion in market valuation.

How does Amazon compare to the largest retailers in the U.S.?

10 Largest Public US Retailers*Market Value July 1, 2020Market Value July 1, 2010 Normalized % Change 2010-2020Retail Revenue
Walmart$339B$179B90%$514B
Costco$134B$24B458%$142B
Amazon$1,400B$50B2,830%$140B
The Kroger Co.$26B$13B107%$118Be
Walgreens Boots Alliance$36B$26B38%$111B
The Home Depot$267B$47B466%$108B
CVS$84B$40B112%$84B
Target$60B$37B64%$74B
Lowe's$102B$29B251%$71B
Best Buy$23B$14B59%$43B
Combined value of retailers (without Amazon)$1,071B

Source: Deloitte, YCharts
*Largest public US retailers based on their retail revenue as of fiscal years ending through June 30, 2019, e=estimated

With nearly a 39% share of U.S. e-commerce retail sales, Amazon’s market cap has grown 2,830% over the last decade. Its business model, which aggressively pursues market dominance instead of focusing on short-term profits, is one factor behinds the rise.

By the same token, one recent estimate by The Economist pegged Amazon’s retail operating margins at -1% last year. Another analyst has suggested that the company purposefully sells retail goods at a loss.

How Amazon makes up for this operating shortfall is through its cash-generating cloud service, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and through a collection of diversified enterprise-focused services. AWS, with estimated operating margins of 26%, brought in $9.2 billion in profits in 2019—more than half of Amazon’s total.

Amazon’s Basket of Eggs

Unlike many of its retail competitors, Amazon has rapidly diversified its acquisitions since it originated in 1994.

Take the $1.2 billion acquisition of Zoox. Amazon plans to operate self-driving taxi fleets, all of which are designed without steering wheels. It is the company’s third largest since the $13.7 billion acquisition of organic grocer Whole Foods, followed by Zappos.

Accounting for the lion’s share of Amazon-owned physical stores, Whole Foods has 508 stores across the U.S., UK, and Canada. While Amazon doesn’t outline revenues across its physical retail segments—which include Amazon Books stores, Amazon Go stores, and others—physical store sales tipped over $17 billion in 2019.

Meanwhile, Amazon also owns gaming streaming platform Twitch, which it acquired for $970 million in 2017. Currently, Twitch makes up 73% of the streaming market and brought in an estimated $300 million in ad revenues in 2019.

Carrying On

Despite the flood of online orders due to quarantines and social distancing requirements, Amazon’s bottom line has suffered. In the second quarter of 2020 alone, it is expected to rack up $4 billion in pandemic-related costs.

Yet, at the same time, its customer-obsessed business model appears to thrive under current market conditions. As of July 1, its stock price has spiked over 51% year-to-date. On an annualized basis, that’s roughly 100% in returns.

As margins get squeezed and expenses grow, is Amazon’s growth sustainable in the long-term? Or, are the company’s strategic acquisitions and revenue streams providing the catalysts (and cash) for only more short-term success?

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10 Types of Innovation: The Art of Discovering a Breakthrough Product

How do companies like Amazon and Apple consistently make game-changing products? Here are 10 types of innovation, and the tactics that lead to big breakthroughs.

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The Art of Discovering Breakthrough Products

As venture capitalist Peter Thiel once put it, “competition is for losers”.

It’s inevitable that every company must be out there battling for market share, but you don’t really want to be in a situation where the competition is so stiff that any potential upside is eroded away in the process—―a scenario known as perfect competition in economics.

To avoid perfect competition, companies must strive to build an economic moat that gives them a sustainable competitive advantage over time. While these protective moats can arise from a number of different sources, in today’s information economy they most often arise from the power of innovation.

But where does innovation come from, and is there a universal framework that can be applied to help consistently make big breakthroughs?

The 10 Types of Innovation

In today’s infographic, we showcase the culmination of years of in-depth research from Doblin, an innovation-focused firm now owned by Deloitte.

After examining over 2,000 business innovations throughout history, Doblin uncovered that most breakthroughs don’t necessarily stem from engineering inventions or rare discoveries.

Instead, they observed that innovations can be categorized within a range of 10 distinct dimensions—and anyone can use the resulting strategic framework to analyze the competition, to stress test for product weaknesses, or to find new opportunities for their products.

Here are the 10 types of innovation:

#Innovation TypeDescription
1.Profit ModelHow you make money
2.NetworkConnections with others to create value
3.StructureAlignment of your talent and assets
4.ProcessSignature of superior methods for doing your work
5.Product PerformanceDistinguishing features and functionality
6.Product SystemComplementary products and services
7.ServiceSupport and enhancements that surround your offerings
8.ChannelHow your offerings are delivered to customers and users
9.BrandRepresentation of your offerings and business
10.Customer EngagementDistinctive interactions you foster

From Theory to Practice

What does innovation look like in practice?

Let’s see how well-known businesses have leveraged each of these 10 types of innovation in the past, while also diving into the tactics that modern businesses can use to consistently make new product breakthroughs:.

Innovation Types #1-4: “Configuration”

According to Doblin, the first four types of innovation center around the configuration of the company, and all the work that happens “behind the scenes”.

Although innovation types in this category are not directly customer-facing, as you can see in the examples below, they can still have an important impact on the customer experience. How your company and products are organized can have a crucial downstream effect, even enabling innovations in other categories.

Configuration innovation types

Two of the most interesting examples here are Google and McDonald’s. Both companies made internal innovations that empowered their people to make important advancements further on downstream.

In the case of McDonald’s, the franchisee insight that led to the introduction of the Egg McMuffin spearheaded the company’s entire breakfast offering, which now accounts for 25% of revenues. Breakfast is also now the company’s most profitable segment.

Innovation Types #5-6: “Offering”

When most people think of innovation, it’s likely the offering category that comes to mind.

Making improvements to product performance is an obvious but difficult type of innovation, and unless it’s accompanied by a deeply ingrained company culture towards technical innovation, such advancements may only create a temporary advantage against the competition.

This is the part of the reason that Doblin recommends that companies focus on combining multiple areas of innovation together—it creates a much more stable economic moat.

Offering innovation types

Apple has a reputation for innovation, but the product ecosystem highlighted above is an underappreciated piece of the company’s strategy. By putting thought into the ecosystem of products—and ensuring they work together flawlessly—additional utility is created, while also making it harder for customers to switch away from Apple products.

Innovation Types #7-10: “Experience”

These types of innovation are the most customer-facing, but this also makes them the most subject to interpretation.

While other innovations tend to occur upstream, innovations in experience all get trialed in the hands of customers. For this reason, intense care is needed in rolling out these ideas.

Experience innovation types

In the early days of the internet, online shipping was precarious at best—but Amazon’s introduction of Amazon Prime and free expedited shipping for all members has been a game-changer for e-commerce.

Executing on such a promise was no small task, but today there are 150 million users of Prime worldwide, including some in metro areas who can get items in as little as two hours.

Making Innovations Happen in Your Organization

How can organizations approach the 10 types of innovation from a more tactical perspective?

One useful resource is Doblin’s free public list of over 100 tactics that correspond with the aforementioned framework.

The one-pager PDF provides a range of typical dimensions for approaching each type of innovation. In essence, these are all different ways you could consider when trying to differentiate your product or service—and at the very least, it provides a useful thought experiment for managers and marketers.

For those interested in learning more on this topic, Doblin also has a highly-rated book as well as other accessories that leverage the above framework.

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