Rise of the Messaging Service

Two years ago a friend asked me if I was on Whatsapp, to which I promptly replied “What app??” After heavily investing my time on Facebook, Twitter et all. I was not looking forward to using another product on a daily basis. But if I wanted to stay in touch with friends in India I little choice. To my surprise I was so attached to the service that I paid to renew earlier this year. 

This morning I came across a rather ominously worded article “Facebook ‘dead and buried’ as teens switch to Snapchat and Whatsapp”. The article based the claim on a study conducted on British teens and found that they were embarrassed of being on Facebook.

“Not only are 16-18 year olds moving on to rivals such as Snapchat, Whatsapp and even Twitter, teens are embarrassed to be so much as associated with Facebook, as their parents adopt the network, researchers said.

Now I have been reading various articles about how Facebook has seen a decline in time spent by teenagers over the years and they even copped to it in a filing.

“We believe that some of our users, particularly our younger users, are aware of and actively engaging with other products and services similar to, or as a substitute for, Facebook. For example, we believe that some of our users have reduced their engagement with Facebook in favor of increased engagement with other products and services such as Instagram. In the event that our users increasingly engage with other products and services, we may experience a decline in user engagement and our business could be harmed.”

So is this just teenagers rebelling, looking for the next cool thing. Lets first look at these new contenders. RE: Messaging Services.

WhatsApp – The Cool Kid on the Block

Launched in 2009, WhatsApp is a mobile messaging service that allows users to send text, video, photos and audio messages. Users can chat 1-on-1 or set up groups. While its a little known service in the US, it has a sizable global presence. The app is highly popular in Brazil, Spain, India and Singapore. WhatsApp syncs to a users address book, and was one of the first few apps to be available on the iPhone, Nokia, Blackberry and Android.

Snapchat – The Erasable Messaging Service

Snapchat is a free messaging service that allows users to share photos. But unlike other services when your friend opened the message, the photo will self-destruct within 10 seconds. You can also send videos. If someone tries to take a screenshot of your snap the app notifies the sender. The app’s core audience is 13 to 25 years old, with women comprising 70% of its audience. This is might be the reason why Facebook made a $3 Billion offer for the site, which was promptly rejected by Snapchat.

Kik – The new BBM

Kik is a multi-platform messaging app designed to do help users communicate instantly and easily with friends. As of Dec 13, the site had more than 100 million registered users, with around 200,000 downloading the cross-platform mobile app each day. “Kicksters” can access a number of features including multimedia messaging, and integrate with social networking platforms.

Kik Messaging Platform

Active Audience

WhatsApp had 400+ Million monthly active users (worldwide) by December 2013. According to stats released by the company, users send 16 Billion messages per day on average, receive 32 Billion messages per day, and send 500 million images per day.

Snapchat users share about 350 million photos per day. The app has seen tremendous growth, daily photo shares have grown from 20 million last October to 200 million in June 2013 to 350 million in September.

In comparison, Twitter has over 904 Million registered accounts, 232 Million monthly active users, and 45 Million daily active users who tweet. Those numbers say a lot.

Focusing on its core audience

Whats interesting about WhatsApp is that it understands its audience and has defined a niche for itself. Rather than being a mee-too service that seeks to fulfill the need of every audience, it chooses to focus on its core. It does not show ads, and has decided not to add additional services such as viewing YouTube video or playing games in the app.

In comparison, Facebook has gone about expanding its functionality. UK researchers found that while teenagers agree the site is technically better than rivals they don’t care for the polished look “slick isn’t always best”. Especially if mum and dad are snooping about.

“It is more integrated, better for photo albums, organising parties and more effective for observing people’s relationships,” yet other factors are much more important  to teens – namely the fact they are likely to get a friend request from their mum on Facebook.

There is such a thing as too many choices. Psychologists have long ago concluded that that an overload of options may actually paralyze people or push them into decisions that are against their own best interest.

Worrisome Trend for Telecom and Established Players

This seems to be a definite trend wherein a highly engaged group is changing the way it communicates. Users are increasingly using these platforms as an alternate to traditional texting. RE: social networking site, while teenagers are a fickle audience and are always looking for the next “big” thing, they constitute an essential demo for social networking sites. I doubt Twitter or Facebook are much too pleased about messaging services luring teenagers. For now keep an eye out on services such as Whatsapp, Snapchat and Kik.

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