Following its beta launch at the end of January, just.me, the mobile messaging startup from Keith Teare, co-founder of TechCrunch and partner at incubator Archimedes Labs, has launched its first app, available initially for iPhones and iPod Touch. Just.me had planned on an earlier release of the app but said today it held back so it could launch at DEMO Mobile to garner more attention.
As with any messaging app, just.me's usefulness is commensurate with the number of friends fully on board with the service so getting the word out to drive app downloads is now priority number one for its founders. Just.me does support messaging going outside its bounds, to non-app users, but to access the full suite of features conversation participants need to join in.
Just.me also has a more complex feature-set than the average messaging app, so arguably has more work to do to educate potential users and convince them it's worth sticking with it through the learning curve. Rather than focusing on selling itself as just a (free) messaging service, as some of its messaging rivals have, just.me has grander ambitions: it's agitating to replace centralised social networks with the contacts in your phonebook plus its tabbed sharing structure.
The app supports private one-to-one messaging; contained group messaging; and public broadcasts, the latter on a public just.me cloud (similar in concept to Twitter or Google+). It also allows users to talk to themselves by using the app as a private journal and/or storage service, a la Evernote. So it's offering a spectrum of messaging types, private and public, all within the same service.
These features make it a lot more ‘high concept' than the average messaging app - closer, perhaps, to the likes of NHN Japan Corp's Line, which is also styling itself as a social network replacement and also offers multifaceted sharing options. Unlike Line, though, which is replete with stickers and cartoonish mascots, just.me is not so heavily targeting the youth market.
Just.me has a clean, professional look (see screenshot gallery below) with a focus on displaying users' own photos that's most reminiscent of Path or Facebook Home. Add to that its ability to function as an email-plus-multimedia-attachment replacement and just.me seems most likely to appeal to older, professional power users - who are seeking to collapse the functions of multiple apps into one low-friction interface.
Facebook Home is a step forward for mobile software… We can see the end of single use apps in this move.
Since just.me's beta debut at the start of the year the competitive mobile messaging landscape has shifted a little, with Facebook launching its Facebook Home launcher on the Android platform. Home is a skin that sits between the OS and third party apps, pushing the latter outside the user's main sphere of attention. Just.me is not currently competing with Home, since Home is not (fully) available on iOS. But Teare & co are working on an Android version of their app - due in six to eight weeks - so will be rubbing up against Facebook's new-look mobile face soon enough.
Asked whether Facebook Home makes just.me's user-acquisition task harder than it might otherwise be, Teare argued the opposite, telling TechCrunch: “Facebook Home really makes things easier. People will understand a user-centric approach with an app that caters for multiple user needs.
“Facebook Home is a step forward for mobile software. It represents an attempt to support multiple user goals on a single platform. We can see the end of single use apps in this move. just.me shares this vision of a combined messaging and social media app capable of supporting all of a users goals. We are happy to be in the same company as Facebook here.”
While conceding it's an inevitable challenge for a 14-person startup to compete “in a field that contains giants”, Teare said just.me's distributed openness vs the “walled garden clubs”, its range of sharing features and an initial rollout that encompasses “155 countries from day one, in 32 languages” (albeit, on only one mobile platform) will help it stand out. And rattle some cages.
“We do not see ourselves as competing with Facebook Home. We are far ahead feature wise and very different in that we are an open and distributed network, not a centralized one. We rather see ourselves as offering users features and controls that others have yet to build,” he said. “We want to be a major player in delivering multi-faceted messaging to users.”
Just.me raised a $2.7 million Series A back in 2011. Its investors include Khosla Ventures, SV Angel, Google Ventures, True Ventures, Betaworks, CrunchFund (which is of course tied up with TechCrunch in several ways, including the fact that our parent company AOL is an investor), and individuals including Don Dodge and Michael Parekh.