Path Adds Another Avenue for Mobile Gabfest
Path is banking on TalkTo's service, which allows users to text businesses, to provide a new conduit for growth in the highly competitive social arena. The value for users is obvious -- no need to navigate annoying automated systems or wait on hold -- but the methodology might be problematic. TalkTo relies on a fleet of call center reps to act on behalf of users, and that could be risky business.
Path has hived off its mobile-only messaging service as a standalone app named "Talk," it announced Friday. It also ended limits on the number of friends users can communicate with, and announced its purchase of place messaging pioneer TalkTo as it sets itself for growth.
The Talk app has a new feature, Ambient Status, that shows users' current status at a glance -- whether they're in transit, in the neighborhood, or even if their battery is running low.
TalkTo lets users text message any nearby business and get a texted response within minutes; Path will integrate the service into Talk later this summer.
"There are many small companies that fit into this messaging app category," telecommunications analyst Jeff Kagan told the E-Commerce Times. "We will see many more mergers like this."
Competition is keen, which could sidetrack potential growth, Kagan said, and "the next question is, what will this company do to separate itself from the competition in this segment and grow?"
Path's Internal EffortsThe standalone Talk app includes text, groups, photos, voice, maps, music, movies, books, videos and stickers.
Its Quick Replies feature lets users nudge a friend, acknowledge a message, or start a call without using a keyboard. It also lets users ping a friend with a swipe.
Path has redesigned its social messaging app controls to make sharing and navigation easier.
Further, Path this year set up partnerships with Twitter, Sprint, Nokia, Amazon and other firms, and it expanded the Path API to connect with WordPress and other apps. More integrations are on the way.
The company also exclusive integrations with Google Glass and Samsung's Galaxy Gear, and it will focus strongly on wearables.
What TalkTo's About
TalkTo lets users in the United States and Canada ask any local business a question, even if the business is not registered with TalkTo.
They'll get an answer within 5-10 minutes if the business is open.
TalkTo's call center representatives will intervene to get answers from businesses, if necessary, and text the responses to users.
Users can find out if a store has what they want, compare prices, check price and availability of a service, reserve tables at restaurants, and book appointments or classes.
Talkto also has a feed that lets users see others' shopping questions and answers.
Businesses registered with TalkTo can respond to questions directly and see the questioner's name and picture, as well as the location from which the message was sent.
The TalkTo service also can be used on the Web. A paid premium service fast-tracks answers.
Issues With the TalkTo Purchase
Path purchased Talkto for an undisclosed sum in cash and shares, but how this deal will work out remains to be seen.
Many of TalkTo's features are easily available on other mobile apps: Shopkick, Polyvore, Poshmark, Groupon, Amazon, Table8, RedLaser, Amazon's Flow and Price Check by Amazon. There's also OpenTable, which was just purchased by Priceline.
Most queries to TalkTo apparently convert into sales, but "you need to have resources trained for that particular type of task, and you can't hope somebody trained will be available to answer your question," Jeff Orr, a senior practice director at ABI Research, told the E-Commerce Times.
Using the call center could lead to privacy issues because "people often do stupid things, particularly if they aren't very experienced, because this is how call centers are staffed," pointed out Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
A mistake "could badly damage Path's image and brand," because its differentiating point is privacy, Enderle said.
Can Path Succeed?
Path could "sell services to businesses that let them better engage with customers and automate the responses so similar questions automatically get fed prior relevant answers," Enderle told the E-Commerce Times.
"The more Facebook is distrusted the better Path looks," he pointed out.
Path lost some executives last year and had to cut 13 staff -- 20 percent of its workforce. Whether its new route might succeed, given its lack of any truly innovative technology, is questionable.