XDA Office Space: Frankenstein’s Perfect IM Client?
The portal’s decentralized XDA office lies in a Hangouts chatroom, where we discuss the latest developments that hit the blogosphere, critique them and figure out what we can do to add a new or original point of view. We came to love this little virtual office, which sees messaging 24/7 due to the international nature of our team. The main problem that we have faced since early on is that Hangouts is not versatile enough for in-depth discussion.
What we constantly face with our particular use case is the fact that, since there are no tags or mentions, we might wake up to an overwhelming amount of messages we must go through with no real guiding nor context. Sometimes these are just regular team rambles, but at times important discussion or analysis hides in there too. The administration system of the platform is also iffy, and the inability to easily automate muting at certain times or for certain periods can make one miss out on important messages. All of these are, however, overshadowed by the many good aspects of Hangouts that greatly enhance the user experience for large groups.
The first one is at the very core of our love for the IM platform, and it’s the read receipt system it uses. The ability to quickly and intuitively know where each person stands in the group conversation’s timeline allows us to manage the pacing of our messages and know when everyone is on the same page. It is also handy to know exactly who read the message and where they stopped, and to estimate if said person is or is not available for further discussion. The web client is also very useful for large group chats due to how easy it is to resize, but also hide with the tab overlay. This client is also rather centralized, but we have regular gripes with its voice-call system on desktop.
Needs and Wants
We are planning lots of great developments for the site, and these require in-depth discussion that must be followed in the most efficient and intelligible manner. This is where Hangouts started getting shabby: the system is too linear, as the only way to navigate it is by scrolling up and down. Tracking topics is a mess, summoning people with muted chats is not a reality without actual mentions, and the lack of threading can make multiple conversations merge into a big hot mess where tracking who said what to who is a complete pain. The read receipt stands out against the competition, and it remains our favorite feature of Hangouts, but it was not enough to keep us there for more serious discussion.
In our search for a better client for our use-case, the name “Telegram” came up quickly. We had been using Telegram for weeks now as well, as coordinating our late-night gaming sessions was made much easier thanks to it. But all entertainment aside, we quickly realized that it would be perfect to keep track of news and have a “spotter” summon the relevant writers for particular topics, and allow better communication of the contents within the news. Because of this, we entered a rather short lived debate as to what platform we should use for in-depth discussion. Telegram proved to be the winner, as its suite of features make brainstorming, analyzing and navigating through arguments much easier.
To us, most of the virtues of Telegram reside in its mentions and quotes, which allow for discussion threading, quick navigation and also the summoning of relevant participants. Without going into the topic of privacy and security, the framework of Telegram proves to be rather amazing, but still not enough. Smartbots like Jaconda and Liberbot add functionality that helps towards this cause, and we do exploit such options. But many things that we wish we had are simply not there, especially in the base messenger – nor in any base app, at least not all in there at once.
The Perfect IM
While any question that seeks a “perfect” anything can often result in Mary Sue wishes, the topic of the perfect IM is one that is relevant to our office space. The fact that we don’t have a centralized chat system with everything we want and need, and that we must use multiple platforms to get what we need are recurring topics of discussion. To us, an IM app should be cohesive and broad in features, but thoughtful ones – the usual suite of calls, video calls, and the like are useful, but voice messages as seen in apps like Telegram and Whatsapp make replying much easier while on the go or multi-tasking. At the same time, some users might find themselves in a situation where they are unable to hear these voice messages, which is why a perfect IM should also have transcription.
Android Wear’s transcription system does the work when you speak to your watch, and I have replied to thousands of IMs this way throughout my Wear ownership. However, sometimes I wish I could just send the voice file and not the transcription, which can easily be misinterpreted by the watch and thus misrepresent the spoken idea. I know that other Wear owners at the XDA office feel the same way, so the perfect IM client would not only need tight Wear optimization (which includes Hangouts’ displaying of the chat history), but also extra features not widely adopted on the platform yet, like being able to trigger voice messages through headphones.
When it comes to video, video calls are also a must. We hold video conferences routinely, and for our group-mind use case it proves invaluable. However, sometimes we also need video messages. I can’t count the times where I wanted to show a short video clip I recorded to someone through an IM that doesn’t support the feature. The ones that do, like Whatsapp, shrink down the video through heavy compression, but it is usually intelligible enough to get the idea across. Video calls should also be minimised into little windows a-la-skype when using the phone outside of the IM application. Finally, a feature that we wish we had when discussing software is screen sharing.
Regarding the actual group chat, the imaginary IM should have an option for decentralized control over group membership – meaning kicking, naming and theming privileges of each member can evolve with the group The ability to control the chat history that each member of the group sees – particularly new members entering the chat for the first time – should also be there. Group chats should have a customizable image, title and description – this bit comes immensely handy for announcements.
On a more technical front, the client should have an open and extensible API, and/or be open source. This would allow for revisions (that could easily get nuked out of the Play Store) and for adapting the client to the user’s or group’s needs. Privacy and security should be key focuses and a priority of the client. Features like self-destructing messages and functionality like that of Bittorrent’s Bleep messenger can make for a much more private and safer IM experience.
Finally, little things like markdown support, stickers, a read receipt system like that of Hangouts, spellcheck, word definition look-up, easily integratable bots, doc-style node editing and more thoughtful features from major apps (and Wave, which a few XDA editors are particularly nostalgically sour about) could greatly enhance the experience – if not make it.
While we don’t have a perfect chat client for the team, we at least try to make one with whatever tweaks and scripts we can. Sadly, none of that gets us close to the ideal IM client, which is ultimately just a utopic frankenstein of features and implementations. We are sticking with Hangouts for casual chats, and Telegram for planification and in-depth discussion. We might expand that list someday, or perhaps reduce it (Google, please get Hangouts’ stuff together already). But those are, more or less, the features we wish we had on an IM client for both productivity and entertainment (because that’s half the fun of our close-knit team).
What would a perfect messenger client look like to you?