One of the announcements made at the BlackBerry Live 2013 General Session yesterday is the beta launch of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) Channels. In a nutshell, BBM Channels is a new social engagement platform within BBM that will allow people to connect to businesses, brands, celebrities and groups they are passionate about.
When queried on the rationale behind BBM Channels, Andrew Bocking, SVP, Software Product Management at BlackBerry said that the company has received numerous requests from BBM users to make BBM Groups bigger. BBM Groups allow users to create chat rooms of up to 30 participants where pictures, lists and events can be shared. So how does BBM Channels work? Now, let's take a look: -
Similar to how BB users add each other on BBM, subscribing to Channels require you to key in the PIN. You can also browse through the Featured Channels on BBM to subscribe directly. Alternatively, there is an option to scan bar codes to subscribe. At point of publication, there are only eight BBM Channels available which include the official BlackBerry Channel and the official Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team.
Each Channel has its personalized profile, which can include additional content such as welcome messages, images, maps, BBM Pin, email address, URLs and more. It also gives a brief overview of what the channel is all about.
After subscribing to the channels that you are interested in, you will be kept up-to-date with instant notifications from the channel owners. When a channel posts something new, the signature notification icon will appear on the top right corner.
According to BlackBerry, subscribers can choose whether they would like to be notified via the BBM Channel mute button. Users can opt in or out. We were unable to find these options at point of publication, which could be due to the feature being in beta status.
If you are a regular user of Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram, you will find the user interface of the BBM Channel familiar. First, it adopts the same white background seen in the other three social networks. Second, you can engage the channel by commenting or liking the posts. Some channels can choose to disable comments.
An upcoming feature, Chat, will allow users to get close to the channel owners by having private conversations via BBM. As a result, businesses, brands, sports teams and celebrities can use BBM Channels to reach out to a broader audience.
Anyone can create, edit and publish a BBM Channel within minutes. There are no limits to the number of followers and you can manage it from a BlackBerry device or the web. Channel owners can make use of the built-in measuring tools (Reactions and Stats) to assess and monitor engagement and interaction.
BBM Channels provide valuable opportunities for both BlackBerry and its partners (brands, celebrities, sports teams etc) to reach out to a wider audience via mobile advertising. With 60 million BBM users actively using the service and BBM becoming cross-platform, there is indeed a chance for BBM Channels to take off.
Currently, BlackBerry states that its main focus is on building the user base and the user experience. Although it has plans to monetize BBM Channels, this will not be its immediate priorities. In addition, BlackBerry has no plans to bring BBM Channels over to the Windows Phone platform after taking into consideration its users' feedback. At the moment, most of the BBM users are asking the company to bring BBM (and the Channel feature as well) over to Android and iOS.
For now, we just have to wait for BBM to arrive on Android and iOS, which is expected to be sometime in summer. Existing BlackBerry users can head over to the BlackBerry Beta Zone to download BBM Channels (beta) to try it out. Do note that BlackBerry Beta Zone is not available in all markets and it is still in beta, hence software bugs and missing features are expected.