In a surprise move on Tuesday, BlackBerry launched its own social network, BBM Channels. During his BlackBerry Live 2013 keynote, CEO Thorsten Heins announced that the BBM Channels service launches in beta today.
The social network will be built on top of its popular BBM messaging service and will allow people to set up channels that BBM users can subscribe to. Heins said that they have high profile partners who have signed on to be part of the beta, incuding the Goo Goo Dolls, Alicia Keys, and Mercedes Benz.
Heins also said that the company's developers plan to roll out updates to BBM Channels every 2-4 weeks and that the service will launch publicly this summer. That will coincide with the company's plan to launch BBM as a free app on iOS and Android. Heins said that BBM Channels will be included as part of the BBM app for iOS and Android.
BBM Channels will have to succeed where others have failed, such as Apple with its Ping social network. The best thing BBM Channels has going for it is that it has a wrapt audience in BBM. Heins noted that almost half of all BBM messages are read within 20 seconds.
"That's an incredible level of engagement," he said.
BlackBerry isn't calling BBM Channels a social network, but it clearly has features aimed at trasforming BBM beyond just a peer-to-peer messaging service and into something that also lets you subscribe to brands the way you can on Twitter and Facebook. BlackBerry's official elevator pitch on BBM Channels is that it is "a new social engagement platform within BBM that will allow people to connect with the businesses, brands, celebrities and groups they are passionate about."
Andrew Bocking, Executive Vice President of Software Product Management and Ecosystem at BlackBerry, summed up the pitch that BlackBerry is making to brands to join BBM Channels: "With over 60 million highly engaged customers using BBM, content creators have a great opportunity to build deeper relationships, enhance their brands, and connect in new ways."
BBM Channels is attempting to thread the needle between a more private social network like Facebook originally was (and Path is now) and a broadcast platform like Twitter.