You can’t escape instant messages. I thought that the category died after AOL Instant Messenger stopped being a thing people cared about, but the last year has shown how important messaging services have become to Facebook, Google, and an entire category of one-on-one chat products. Babblr is the latest entrant into the burgeoning category, and it hopes to use Tumblr’s hotbed of millennial intrigue to show that it’s something more than a me-too messaging service hoping to garner attention in a nascent market.
Tumblr’s popularity among teens — youth? is that a thing people still say? — is well-documented. It’s what allowed the service to grow beyond 100 million blogs and into the idea that it could become the “next Facebook,” except it would focus less on estranged relatives and ex-girlfriends and more on the things young people care about, like the photos rich kids post to Instagram or pictures of white dudes wearing Google Glass. Combine that with a $1 billion exit to Yahoo, and Tumblr really has everything — except a messaging product, which is where Babblr comes in.
Originally released in May, Babblr attracted the attention of some 250,000 Tumblr users before it had to be taken down by its three-person team to solve crippling technological problems. Now, with a new back-end powered by Realtime.co, the service is re-launching with the hopes of regaining those users and finally bringing instant messaging to Tumblr’s platform. Babblr co-founder Brandon Sowers says that 41,000 people have started using the service since the re-launch earlier today, and the company has yet to contact the other 250,000 people who signed up for the service three months ago.
Babblr is relatively simple. Assuming you’re already using Tumblr, you just sign up for the service — after an optional “donation,” of which Sowers says the average amount is $3, for people who choose to pay at all — and download the Google Chrome extension. Once you’ve done that and authenticated with your Tumblr login, Babblr is essentially a Tumblr-ified version of every instant messaging product you’ve ever used that rest on the bottom of your Tumblr dashboard. Now the only question is whether or not that’s what you, and the rest of Tumblr’s Facebook-avoiding users, really want.
Sowers admits that the majority of Tumblr users wouldn’t like to see the service become more like Facebook. But, he says, that’s why Babblr is a third-party application; it allows you and everyone else who might be interested in turning the service into a messaging platform to see what that’s like without forcing such a change onto every Tumblr user. You can have your micro-blogging service and chat through it too.
Babblr plans to expand its platform to other browsers — it’s currently restricted to Google Chrome — and mobile platforms in the future, and Sowers says that eventually it would like to support other chat-free social networks too. “There are always going to be new services coming out,” he says. “But people are always going to want to communicate,” he adds, and Babblr’s goal is to facilitate that communication no matter what service you might be using. The company is currently seeking funding — and has raised one-third of its target, according to Sowers — to realize that goal. This is the year of messaging, and if Babblr has its way, you’re going to be seeing chat boxes no matter where you turn.