Idea: Transient, Disposable Chat


This is the second idea in my Idea Series, a series of blog posts I do (hopefully weekly) with an idea that I’ve been kicking around. I’m using this as a way to help validate and think through potential projects that I want to work on later this year.

(If you missed my post about Smarter Sprinkers, definitely check it out.)

The Problem

Chatting online is nothing new. We’ve had chat since the early days of the web, and today, are still seeing new services like Slack that are revolutionizing how groups of people chat with one another. That said, there’s still something missing.

Let me set this up with a story. A few days ago, I was on the phone with a group of folks I’m working on a project with. We had something that we wanted to hash through after we finished the call, so we thought we’d chat somewhere about it once we finished the call. The question was: where to chat? We didn’t have any centralized project management solution. We were all using Slack, but creating a team or channel for this relatively small and quick conversation seemed like overkill. Still, we needed a space to chat through this problem, perhaps save the transcript of it, and ultimately, destroy it once we were done after a day or so.

This problem happens in other areas. Twitter suffers from this all the time. A group of people engage in a conversation with one another, often jamming handles together and shortening their 140 character limit that they can use to make their point. A volley of messages go by, often with fractured context, and ultimately, the conversation grinds to a halt due to the restriction of the platform.

These are just two examples of an issue that is clearly prevalent on the web: we need a place to create temporary, disposable chat rooms, with no strong tie to any other service.

The Idea

The idea is simple: a place where users can kick off a chat room, without being tied to a service. It doesn’t require everyone be on the platform - simply that someone provisions a room, and invites others to it. They chat, and once finished, the room is gone forever. Transient, disposable chat.

I think this could be particularly useful on Twitter. Those conversations I mentioned earlier would now have a place to happen - a kind of digital alcove - where they could dip in, go deep for a few minutes, then blow it away. It’s possible that users would be able to email a transcript to themselves, or other similar actions.

This would also be helpful in support tasks where social media teams are monitoring Twitter. If you work for a company, and you monitor Twitter for people complaining about your product, you’ll typically intercept them, and try to resolve the problem. Although I’ve never worked in this capacity, I’ve been on the receiving end, and it typically goes like this.

Me: “[Says something disparaging about a company]”
Company: “Hey @jwd2a! Follow us so we can DM you!”
Me: [Follows account]
Company (via DM, sometime later): “Hey, saw you were having trouble, how can we help?”
Me/Company: [Volley of DMs over a period of time]

Sometimes, this exchange moves into email or some other support system. With our transient chat rooms, the support agent could quickly create a room, invite me to it, hash out the issue, and destroy the room. Instant support, with no reliance on any heavy infrastructure, and no modal shift for the user.

I imagine that it’d make sense to allow sign in via Twitter, or possibly, no sign in at all (just enter the room, pick a nickname).

Overall, this independent service would act as the communication glue between systems, allowing people to have discussions across their respective fiefdoms, without needing one party to capitulate and join the requester’s service.

How It Makes Money

It seems to make sense that this is largely a free service, with a couple exceptions: in-app upgrades or spot purchases for certain actions (exporting a transcript, inviting more than 10 people, etc.), and a paid version for use by companies in the support scenario that I mentioned above (which would likely allow branding of these rooms among other features).

What Do You Think?

Well, what do you think? Is there a need for transient, disposable chat rooms on the web? Do you run into the problem of needing a temporary place to have a conversation, but don’t want the weight of using a larger service for such a fleeting interaction? Leave your comments below and tell me if this idea flies or dies!

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