RIM adds social features in BBM 6 refresh

Waterloo Ont.-based Research in Motion Ltd. (RIM) released Version 6 of its real-time messaging client, Blackberry Messenger (BBM). With the release of Version 6, among minor changes, RIM has put the focus on social integration, allowing BBM features to be implemented in any Blackberry application.

Hossam Bahlool, director of platform product management at RIM, said now users “can share with (their BBM contacts) what they’re reading, share with them what they’re listening to, or, in the case of something like a game or business app, they can actually invite them into the application so that they can interact and collaborate with them and not have to jump back and forth between BBM and the application itself.”

Bahlool said this is significant because of the sheer number of BBM users. “We’re at 45 million users right now and we continue to add about two million users a month,” he said. Bahlool said 70 per cent of Blackberry owners use BBM daily.

Adding functionality to let BBM “talk” to applications seems like a safe bet. “The key capability is the fact that (there is) this ability for third party apps to connect with BBM and give you a much more social experience … any app genre or type of app can benefit from having a social aspect,” he said.

He said that the 30 or so apps already BBM integrated on day one of BBM 6’s release cross numerous types of functionality. The apps include location-based apps like Poynt and Foursquare, games, radio apps, business workflow apps and news apps like the Huffington Post.

In addition to the added chat and social features for third-party apps, there are also changes to BBM profiles that proliferate back from BBM-integrated apps.

For instance, if you get to a certain level in a game, or a badge in Foursquare, there will now be special sections in your BBM profile that display your latest accomplishment, assuming you give the application permission to do so.

Bahlool said this will make profiles more dynamic, as they can be kept current without forcing the user to make changes.

Rob Enderle, principal analyst for San Jose-Calif.-based Enderle Group, isn’t so sure these changes are enough to help RIM out of their current image troubles. He thinks the social update to BBM is “kind of like getting a glass of water to toss on a fire which is already raging out of control. It couldn’t hurt but it won’t help much either.”

Enderle is concerned that app developers have long since abandoned Blackberry’s platform for the more open and easily-designed-for Android and iOS markeplaces. He thinks giving developers “a late concession on messaging isn’t likely to get them back; it is way too little and entirely too late.”

Bahlool does not agree. He said this could be a big helper for Blackberry app makers in marketing their wares, something that has previously been a challenge. “It’s simple; use our over 45 million users to market the app for you,” he said.

He said if you use an app and your friends, family and colleagues can see that, BBM could become “this beautiful, viral distribution channel for marketing applications.”

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