Earlier this week I had the pleasure of hanging out with a bunch of the BlackBerry folks on the BBM team. I had a chance to express my (pretty strong) opinions, make suggestions and pick their collective brains on BBM topics of all kinds.

Just to make this clear, they didn’t reveal any big secrets, but I think I now have a good idea of what seems to be a priority to the team. Without being too specific, I’m pleased with the plans they seem to have in place for the next few months. I’m convinced they are not standing still, and we should see more upgrades before the end of the year.

A big focus was on BBM Channels, which moved out of beta yesterday on BlackBerry devices. While it’s still very early days, this social product looks like a great way for brands to engage with mobile users. Over the next couple of months I think we’ll see Channels roll out on iOS and Android, which will kick things up another level.  In my opinion, it’s as important to rollout Channels cross-platform as it was to rollout the basic BBM service. 

In my opinion, it’s as important to rollout Channels cross-platform as it was to rollout the basic BBM service

Since companies (and individuals) already have ways to socially engage with their audience (Facebook, Twitter, etc), and since these other services are already fairly mature, it’s common for people to ask why BBM Channels has an opportunity to succeed. I don’t know the answer yet, but I’m willing to consider the possibility that BBM Channels could be more engaging, more personal, and more mobile friendly right out of the gate.  

BlackBerry’s recent acquisition of Scroon may also grease the wheels a bit here. Scroon has tools for corporations to manage their social media presence across any API-based social platform. This obviously extends to BBM Channels, so now BlackBerry should be able to convince a lot of brands that use Scroon to also push content out to their BBM Channel.  As a side note, Scroon already has paid tools. If BBM Channels starts to include services that are supported by these paid tools, then we’re seeing the early stages of monetization.

How else can BBM Channels be monetized? There are so many ways to achieve this from charging money to be displayed as a “featured channel” to selling ads or charging for brands to be able to push certain content to channel subscribers. I don’t want to spend too much time on this topic yet because it’s far more important, early on, for BlackBerry to build up a huge base of channel publishers and subscribers across all major mobile platforms.  That’s got to be the focus right now.

It’s far more important, early on, for BlackBerry to build up a huge base of channel publishers and subscribers across all major mobile platforms

As for Channel features, there are two things I’m pushing for.  First, I see BBM Channels as a  beautiful platform for anyone to build the mobile equivalent of a free discussion forum. There are millions of discussion forums all over the web which are desktop-centric and cost a lot of money to deploy and manage.  BBM Channels could become the free, mobile-friendly and cloud-powered version of vBulletin (or insert your favorite forum software here).  But to really go after this opportunity, I think Channels needs to let users create pseudonyms (pen names).  The sales executive who works at Cisco Systems probably wants to use his real name with his BBM buddy list, but I’m guessing he prefers to use a pseudonym when chatting in the Miley Cyrus Fan Club :)

The other obvious feature I’d love to see?  Search. Right now there is no way to search for content within a channel, which I think is a pity.  Give people a way to find channels of interest, but then give them an easy way to find (or return to) content within that channel so they can participate.

Bottom line:  It’s clear that Channels has a huge potential roadmap in front of it as far as feature launches go, as does the entire BBM feature set.  It seems to me like the BBM team is actively listening to users, and has the manpower to make things happen.