Beeper, the upstart messaging app that attempts to corral all your messaging services into one inbox, is being acquired by Automattic, the giant that runs, Tumblr, and a number of other hugely popular web properties. The deal closed last week and was announced officially on Tuesday. Along with the announcement, Beeper is also opening up its app to everyone for the first time across platforms, shutting down its waitlist for good.

There’s a fascinating backstory here on all sides of this acquisition. For Beeper, it comes a couple of months after Beeper launched a new app called Beeper Mini that found a way to let Android users tap into the iMessage protocol and become blue bubbles in the Messages app. Apple didn’t like that; the two sides played a cat-and-mouse game for a while, and eventually, Beeper just gave up. (Now that fight is prominently featured in the antitrust complaint against Apple.) 

Eric Migicovsky, Beeper’s CEO, tells me not to take the timing as an admission of failure — that Beeper couldn’t do what it wanted, so it gave up and sold out. Instead, he says, this is about Beeper finding a better and more sustainable way to get where it always wanted to go: a single app that combines messaging services, that turns messaging into a people-first system instead of a platform-first one. “Having worked on this for three and a half years,” he says, “and seeing how difficult it is to bring something like this to life, we’ve realized we need to know who our friends are in this game.” Automattic is a powerful, long-time advocate for open software, was an early investor in Beeper, and has a good reputation as a steward of its acquisitions. To Migicovsky, it felt like the right place to land.

On the other side, Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg has been saying for months that he believes messaging is the next big pillar of the company. With WordPress projects, Automattic helps oversee something like half the websites on the internet. With WooCommerce, it’s a powerful player in online retail. And with messaging, Mullenweg told me last fall, he saw another chance to work on something just as big and just as important. “Messaging is communication, and communication is fundamental to the human condition,” he said. “And so private, free, encrypted, open-source communication is a fundamental human right.”

“Messaging is communication, and communication is fundamental to the human condition.”

Mullenweg told me that in October as he was announcing another acquisition: a $50 million purchase of Texts, an all-in-one messaging app that is Beeper’s main and maybe only direct competitor. Mullenweg said then that Migicovsky and Beeper were “thinking about the space exactly the right way” but that he took issue with some of Beeper’s security models that required it to store and de-encrypt some of your messages. “The big tech folks are going to want to shut this down,” he said, somewhat presciently, “and I think the best argument they’ll have is that it’s breaking security.” Since then, Beeper has rolled out some security upgrades that change the way the app handles security and prevent Beeper itself from seeing unencrypted messages from Signal, WhatsApp, and other encrypted apps.

Image: Beeper

Going forward, Migicovsky will be Automattic’s head of messaging, and the combined Texts and Beeper team will be working on Beeper. (No word yet on exactly what’s happening to the Texts app.) The team’s first job: preparing the app for the 450,000 people on the Beeper waitlist, who can now use the app along with anyone else who wants to. There’s also more work to bring the more secure version of the app to all of Beeper’s platforms — right now, Android is far ahead of the rest. “We got a hell of a lot of work ahead of us,” Migicovsky says. “But I am quite excited about it.”

Automattic’s combined messaging team will first continue to build a great cross-platform messaging app. But the long-term plan here is clearer than ever: Mullenweg, Migicovsky, and the whole Automattic team intend to replace a lot of the ways you message with an open-source system. Beeper is currently built on top of Matrix, a popular and powerful open-source protocol that is being used by companies and governments around the world. Mullenweg was careful to tell me he’s betting on all things open-source, not just Matrix; but to bet on Beeper is to bet on Matrix.

Migicovsky has long embraced the vision of not just combining your messaging habits but changing them. Now that anyone can use the app, he says, there will be many more Beeper users messaging other Beeper users directly, all of which happens through Matrix. “Our vision is to leverage these connections that we have to other companies and other networks,” he says, “but over time, migrate people and give them an opportunity to move to an open standard for messaging.” If Automattic and Beeper get this right, the blue bubble fight won’t even matter anymore.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *