Hands-on with BBM Channels: BlackBerry's trojan horse social platform

"It's more like Tumblr." That's how one BlackBerry rep described BBM Channels to us, the company's new social networking service announced this past week at BlackBerry Live in Orlando. While Channels, alone, may initially seem like nothing new -- it's an iteration of a social communication model we've seem countless times before -- the service actually speaks more to BlackBerry's forward-facing strategy for BBM as a device-agnostic mobile solution. And, certainly, with the BBM messaging service heading to Android and iOS later this summer, BlackBerry only stands to gain from making its platform more robust, more engaging and more attractive to the big name brands, personalities and publications that draw followers. %Gallery-188638%

Channels is available to download and demo from BlackBerry Beta Zone now, and is compatible with BB10.0 and up. Once the service is successfully installed, a separate settings sub-menu for Channels will appear between Updates and Invites within BBM itself. Tap on that and you'll immediately launch into your Channel home page, separated by those you own and operate and those you subscribe to.

Adding channels to the homepage is a fairly straightforward process: simply tap on the legacy menu button and you'll see prompts to either Browse Channels (by PIN or QR code), Create Channel or Edit Owner Profile (necessary if you're a Channel's admin). Then find one you like and tap to join. Since it's still early days for the service, only ten Channels are currently featured.

Channel feeds are laid out cleanly with a large header image, followed by a subject line, a few lines of text and even hashtags below -- much like Tumblr's layout. Users can also preview the number of comments and likes each individual post has received, in addition to a timestamp at the bottom of each each entry. Tapping on a particular post will expand the view, revealing all approved comments and allowing users to like and / or comment themselves. For now, it seems as though video embeds aren't supported in-line, so posts containing YouTube URLs will merely link out to the BlackBerry browser. Chats, too, are not yet enabled for the service, despite an onscreen menu icon indicating the possibility.

Handson with BBM Channels BlackBerry's trojan horse social platform

If any of the above strikes you as overly familiar, that's because it is. BBM Channels is, again, iterative of established social networking services like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr cleverly bundled into BBM. It's a backdoor solution that transforms what's now widely regarded as just another mobile messaging service into a broad social platform and, crucially, just ahead of its cross platform release. Channels is, by no means, a revolutionary service and BlackBerry isn't pretending it is, either. No, it's the company's tacit acknowledgement of how much you, the average smartphone user, has changed and the catch-up it's still playing after to win you back.