Opinion: Google Allo's whisper/shout feature needs to be stolen by everyone
Google showed off a number of cool things in its I/O keynote today, but one that has gotten me the most excited is the option within Google's new messaging app, Allo, to allow you to shrink or embiggen a word in order to better convey tone. Google is calling this the whisper/shout option, and it really needs to be stolen by all other messaging apps.
Properly conveying tone in a text-based messaging system has always been a challenge and users have always had to kind of hack their way to making themselves understood in different contexts. This could mean a quick emoji or "jk" after typing something that is meant to be sarcastic, or adding an insane number of exclamation points or writing in all caps in order to convey excitement. These kinds of tricks have worked to a certain extent, but no matter what you say or do, the trouble with text-based conversation is that someone will always misunderstand what you're trying to say and may even get offended.
Allo's whisper/shout feature doesn't completely fix this problem, but it is by far the most interesting attempt to change the way text messaging is handled in order to better convey tone. Google talks about it in terms of whispering and shouting, but even a cursory consideration of the feature makes it clear that it is all about offering more nuance to text conversations. The so-called "whisper" side of things could just as easily be used as a kind of mumbled aside to slip in a snide comment or joke, or a subtle disagreement. Embiggening a word can easily be shouting, surprise, amazement, rage and more.
This kind of nuance in text conversations is something that is desperately needed on the Internet, but the trouble is that I don't want it to only be found in Allo. Google has a troubled history with messaging apps, to put it lightly. Google+ Messenger was obviously a failure. Google Talk was nice for hardcore Gmail users but didn't find much wider usage. Hangouts has been Google's best attempt by far, but many still prefer Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and other cross-platform options. Allo is walking into a hugely competitive market and Google hasn't proven it can crack that space.
This is why I'm calling on all messaging app developers and web forum conversation locations - Facebook/WhatsApp, Twitter, WeChat, Skype, Viber, LINE, Telegram, reddit - to steal this feature as quickly as possible and try to expand it beyond just the size of the text. Being able to dynamically change the size of text is a nice start, and the way Allo implements it is fluid and easy to understand, but we need these options everywhere. And, we need to keep thinking about how to better convey tone in text, maybe even crack the most difficult challenge in conveying sarcasm.
Wouldn't that be great?