Why Google needs to build an open chat client like Element

Google recently blocked the Matrix based chat app Element from the Play Store sighting sexual content on the platform. It’s really hard to define the explanation because WhatsApp, Telegram users of other chat clients also share the same content. Telegram is also known to host groups sharing pirated content as well.

This post is not going to bash Google on the ban of Element. It’s about how Google can win the chat app, but how google can build a chat app based on an open chat protocol and create a winning chat platform for them.

Chat apps have been hot for the past couple of years. When I initially Tweeted that chat apps are the new social network, 6-7 years ago (I wish if I can find that tweet, but I can’t seem to find it, maybe it was lost when I deleted all my tweets sometime ago), I remember how people laughed replying how can that even possible, but now as Facebook is on the decline, chat apps are the goto place to hang out with friends.

Google currently doesn’t have a house in the chat app race. Google tried with several chat applications, like Allo, Hangout, Google Talk, none of them took off. Even though Allo looked promising, and was integrated into Android, people never jumped the ship to Allo. And since Google now allowing several chat/video platforms like Hangout, Meet etc, Google’s direction in communication platform seems big vague.

Google also has had a poor history with social networking, Google does not have social in their DNA, it feels like they are engineering, technology first in their approach, while Facebook feels more social first than anything else.

However, after seeing this ban I feel what Google should have a horse in the chat app race, and it should be a matrix/element based chat client. Allow me to explain,

Google should embrace an open protocol like Matrix and build a chat client on top of it, yes it’s against their pattern of hoarding data, and usage of open protocol.

But Google was able to win the email, the email protocol is an open protocol, anyone can implement it, anyone can use any client they want, but still Google was able to create the most popular email service available out their, and even monetise it.

Before Google started gmail, services like hotmail only allowed 200mb of storage, I remember Yahoo deleting my email account because I didn’t login for 6 months (I was still schooling at that time, and didn’t use email much), and not to mention Yahoo, and hotmail had atrocious ads on their email service. But google changed all that, they gave a better UI, more storage, and even a better ad experience.

So what makes then incapable of using an open chat protocol and build a great experience around it? With engineers and money to back a project like that Google can build a good chat service around an open chat protocol.

Even ads might not be a thing, Google can still provide enterprise chat service to organisations, powered by their data servers. They can even keep their source closed if they want to, like they are doing with Gmail, but an open source client would be great.

And Google’s backing for a open chat platform will make people interested about it, and even more people will use it just because it’s from Google. People will be able to use their own clients like Element, or another Matrix client, still and users can build a network greater than a centralised chat service, like we use gmail in our mail app to chat with someone else with a different email provider.

And the bottom line is Facebook, Telegram, Signal, and other chat platforms are going on a race without Google, all providing a centralised experience, with the exception of Signal, who is providing a semi-centralised experience. So even if you can’t beat them, why not try to destroy them all with an open chat protocol?