Communication as a Service

Author profile picture

@matthewbigginsMatthew Biggins

We are terrible communicators. Forgetting to reply to your colleague at work. Neglecting to message your friend back about those dinner plans this weekend. Regardless of the context, we constantly come up short. The solution is not another communication app — we have enough of those:

The solution is a service, Communication as a Service (CaaS) to be specific. To understand why we need these services, let’s break down why we are bad communicators into its 3 parts.

The Problem in 3 Parts:

A cluttered system | a lack of time | we are forgetful

Problem #1: A Cluttered System

The systems we use to communicate are cluttered, overlapping, and unintelligent. In a work context alone, we can use emails, chats, Slack, Trello, comments on documents, voice calls, video calls, or even talk in person. *GASP!* Having this freedom to choose is great in theory, but can easily degrade into a disorganized mess.

When is that report due again? I know Jane told me, but was it over chat or in one of the 7 email threads we were both on today? … Okay found it.
Hmm, I know I have two tasks based off our weekly call, but I think Jane assigned me another on the deck when she commented it up this morning. Let me look…

You get the idea. All these choices and systems are great, but people are the problem. We routinely share information across different channels as opposed to staying unerringly consistent.

And this is without even mentioning our personal lives!

Snapchat, Instagram, FB messenger, iMessage, texting, WhatsApp, Telegram, WeChat, the list goes on. There are literally a hundred unique apps we could use to communicate with friends and family. And an app we use today could not even exist a year from now. We even routinely have conversations with the same person across multiple platforms over the course of one day.

And this makes sense to a degree, different platforms are better suited for different situations. Communicating with people across various countries? WhatsApp is an excellent option. Sharing a video of that cute puppy in the park? Instagram or Snapchat are likely picks. But as with the office, becoming disorganized and switching between multiple apps isn’t a great experience.

Source: Quartz

Problem #2: A Lack of Time

We all have this friend:

While they are the extreme, the underlying idea is the same for most of us. We get more messages than we know what to do with. In a busy world with busy lives, we have other priorities besides answering every single message. We quickly prioritize them and often won’t open low priority messages until hours or days later if we open them at all. If we did answer everything promptly, messages would constantly interrupt our daily lives. Because of our limited amount of time, we choose to punt messages and communicating. This leads to our last and most personal problem.

Problem #3: We Are Forgetful

When we decide not to reply to a message the moment we read it, we increase the chance of forgetting to respond. You may have the best intentions, but that game of Ping-Pong you are engaged in quickly dislodges any memory you had of that message.

Sometimes we catch ourselves later in the day and see the message. Or as has happened on more than one occasion, we find ourselves scrolling through old messages and see one from 4 days ago that we forgot to respond to. Is it too late to continue the conversation? Should we say ‘hey’ and start over, or just write it off as a lost cause? Whatever our choice, the point still remains, we are forgetful.

The Solution: Communication as a Service

Now that we are all on the same page about how poor the state of communication is, it’s time to consider a potential remedy. Why does a service make sense? Well, whenever there is a shortage of time, but a surplus of things to do, we have two options:

1) We can try to accomplish as much as we can, and invariably not finish everything
2) We can do some work ourselves and outsource the rest

For example, way back when we developed a mastery of farming we decided that there were other problems we needed to tackle. But we didn’t have the time to tackle them if we still had to grow our own food. So, we outsourced it. Some people specialized as farmers, freeing up others to pursue new solutions to other problems.

Whether in farming, creating artwork, or communication — time is the ultimate constraint.

No matter what we do, we will never have more of it. All we can do is use it more intelligently. So it is about time we outsource communicating. Doing this is easy if you are an executive at a company and can hire an assistant or if you are a teen with a helicopter parent who plans everything for you. But for the rest of us, having someone else do all of our communicating is just not practical or efficient.

AI-Powered Communication

AI-powered assistants are the answer. No this is not Siri, Ok Google, or Alexa. Those are AI assistants, but they are the one-size-fits-all approach. And boy do they feel that way at times. It is true that they are always getting smarter and more personalized, but their current trajectory is still not personal enough. What we need are our own personal AIs. Think Jarvis for Iron Man or Karen for Spider Man. Unique AIs tailored to our own personalities, quirks, and desires.

Why do this? From a psychological standpoint, we are much more likely to warm up to an AI assistant if we feel that it is unique and just ours. Alexa and Siri will never feel this way.

In terms of the cluttered messaging app space, this solution would change the number of apps we have to use from many to only one. We would direct all our whims to our AI assistant and then it would decide what channel is the best for our message. In a sense, these personal AIs would effectively become extensions of ourselves.

In the short term, the assistants would communicate our thoughts to other people. Looking towards the future, these types of assistants will proliferate. This means that they will start sending more and more of our thoughts to other AIs that in turn interpret these messages for their users. Does an assistant’s user have an appointment on the calendar? Probably not a good time to send through a message that they may ignore. Our friend has just begun their 30-minute commute? Now would probably be a good time to review messages.

But let’s get way, way more automated. Imagine a husband routinely runs errands for his wife after work. He grabs necessities from the grocery store whenever they run out at home. The smart fridge will determine that it is running low on milk. It will notify the head of the house. The wife’s AI assistant will interpret this message and shoot off a text to the husband automatically asking him to pick up milk on his way home. (This could also be sent to a grocery delivery service). The husband’s AI assistant reads this message and automatically responds back with an “OK” text. Once the husband leaves work, the assistant notifies him that he needs to pick up some milk from the store.

To sum it up

1) In place of cluttered messaging ecosystems, AI determines the best way to communicate in a consistent and rationale way.

2) AI gives us time back by prioritizing messages and answering easy questions for us.

3) AI can’t forget a message and can remind us to respond at the most opportune times.

For more thoughts and examples:


The Noonification banner

Subscribe to get your daily round-up of top tech stories!