BlackBerry's plans to make BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) available on Android and iOS took an unexpected turn when the apps that made that possible were withdrawn less than 24 hours after becoming available. So what went wrong? The man who originally built BBM explains what happened, offering a lesson for any large-scale cross-platform deployment.
Gary Klassen, principal architect for BlackBerry and the original creator of BBM, discussed the issue during a press conference at BlackBerry Jam Asia in Hong Kong last week. BlackBerry had already detailed the basic issue in a blog post:
Last week, an unreleased, older version of the BBM for Android app was posted on numerous file sharing sites. We were aware of an issue with this unreleased version of the BBM for Android app. This older version resulted in volumes of data traffic orders of magnitude higher than normal for each active user and impacted the system in abnormal ways. The version we were planning to release on Saturday addressed these issues, however we could not block users of the unreleased version if we went ahead with the launch.
As a result, the Android app was never officially launched, and the iOS app was pulled after less than 24 hours of use. "A lot of work had gone into the beta," Klassen said. "We're victims of that anticipation. Somebody received an early copy of a beta that had issues and that went viral."
The events unfolded at a complex time for Klassen, who was in transit from his home in Sweden to Hong Kong for the event when the issues became evident. As well, the incident happened simultaneously with BlackBerry's announcement that it was considering going private and getting rid of more than 4500 staff. "I'm on the plane in Copenghagen thinking 'wow, can things get any more dramatic?"
BlackBerry won't commit to a firm timeframe for when a fix might be rolled out. "Our first preference is to have it out as soon as possible, but because it's a global system, the modification is needed to the systems and the protocol," Klassen said. "It's the long term that's important to us. We're not holding it back for any other reason than to make sure it's the experience that people expect."
While BBM on iOS and Android will replicate the core instant messaging functionality of the native BlackBerry BBM client, it won't offer additional features such as voice and video chat initially. Klassen said that while extensions to BBM remain a key concern, not every idea makes sense for the platform. For instance, he can't imaging Snapchat-style disposable messaging being added.
"BBM is highly successful and there are things that make it successful. What I've learned about social networking is that it's very important to understand how my messages are going to be received. We've considered all kinds of things for BBM and continued to do so. If we tried to do everything for everyone without a rich understanding of the social implications, it won't work. The actual transport, the way it gets there, is important to me, the end user. It affects how the message gets to you."
Disclosure: Angus Kidman attended BlackBerry Jam Asia as a guest of BlackBerry.