How Microsoft Flow Could Be The Future of Chat

It seems like every tech company is tackling the problem of email volume. I think Microsoft’s Office 365 handles appropriate content management in a way to truly reduce email volume. Instant Messaging with Skype for Business is a great way to help.

There are other players emerging too, like Slack, which seem to be finding real ways to reduce email pains. Others, like Google, just throw more space at the problem and hope search will be your salvation.

This week though, tech blogs lit up with a leaked offering from Microsoft, courtesy of Twitter user h0x0d.

Neowin even has screenshots of the app, although they are highly blurred.

From the tweet, we learned 3 things:
1. Flow is email based, so you can chat with anyone if you know their email address.
2. While Flow is email based, it works more like chat because you can just start immediately with text and no subject.
3. Your chats stay within Flow, without the cumbersome view of your entire mailbox appearing in the app.

From these 3 things, we can speculate on quite a bit!

The Enterprise Play
Obviously, Skype for Business has been a great way to reduce email load through quick answers in chat, keeping short emails out of your Inbox.

Flow would seem to have the same play, but there is one more obvious overlap with Flow, at least from an Enterprise perspective. Since Flow and Skype for Business chats are both held in your Exchange mailbox, both are discoverable via eDiscovery tools.

From this perspective, compliance officers should love Flow. Imagine getting all your employees’ text messages under control again via something that works like a text message and is on the device where you already are texting from.

Text Messaging, You Say?
Yes, this is very much like text messaging. What makes me curious is the cut off screenshot from Neowin, that states:

Flow: Keep conversations alive and engaging
by know when others are typing in a conversation

The term when is key and shows how like text messaging this app is. If Microsoft has a way (assuming via the app) to track responses within the app back to the sender, Flow becomes exactly like text messaging.

I’d like to review a part of the recently released study of email – Evolution of Conversations in the Age of Email Overload. Particularly, I would like to call out 2 points:

..there is a considerable fraction of threads that last longer than a day (22%)

…Most of the replies are very fast: more than 90% happen within a day
of receiving the message, and the most likely reply time is just 2 minutes..

This also addresses the two points from the email report – communication is quick and transient.

Bypassing the Downside to Lync Online
Skype for Business Online has long had one glaring omission that its on-premise counterpart has had since it was Lync, which is cross-platform chat capability. A lot of chat clients have this problem.

Flow would seem to be a way to take the standards and ubiquity of email and turn it into an instant messaging platform. No more worrying if your external partners have Skype for Business, Jabber or Google Hangouts, just use Flow backed by whatever email you have.

My assumption here is that instead of adding complexity to Skype for Business for different chat services, customers can use Flow, backed by their email, to basically just chat with anyone!

Is This The One Chat to Rule Them All?
Way back in 2013, Michael Ingram wrote that we would never get to one chat client. From his perspective, all chat clients are in competition and proprietary. Of course, he is correct.

Microsoft’s move here could be brilliant. You take something everyone has, an email address, and turn it into something everyone needs –
true, cross platform instant messaging.

I’m assuming here that Flow will work with any email platform, and I think I’m right to do so. Google’s attempt at this was Hangouts, which hasn’t been successful because it is simply just another proprietary format. Microsoft would be remiss to have this work only with Exchange and I doubt that’s the case.

Flow also differs from texting because people aren’t as open with their phone numbers as they are with their email address. The reason, of course, is that email is something you deal with on your terms vs. a phone ringing, which is frankly, an instant and immediate assault.

So, where would this play ultimately with Skype for Business? Well, each will have their place likely, but there looks to be some overlap. Flow doesn’t seem to be making the exact same plays around collaboration that Skype for Business does (ie. video, audio, desktop sharing, etc.).

If my assumptions are right though, chat will likely be taking a new and interesting direction soon!