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See ya, SMS: Social messaging apps do more, for free

Caitlin McGarry | Sept. 12, 2013
Social apps combining messaging, games, and stickers are already huge in Asia—and quickly growing in the U.S.

Social messaging vs. social networking
Messaging apps, even ones with basic functionality, are racking up users worldwide. WhatsApp has 300 million monthly active users who send 11 billion messages per day, according to AllThingsD.

But it's unclear if American users want an all-in-one app that serves as a portal for chats, photos, calendars, games, and a social network. One of the most popular OTT messaging apps, Facebook Messenger, appeals to users because it's attached to a social network but is still a separate app. Facebook has the name recognition and critical mass that a startup social messaging app needs to carve out a niche in the space. Who wants to chat on an app that none of your friends use?

"Some of these apps that came on early, like WhatsApp, have a brand associated with it," said Gartner research director Brian Blau. "People come to the network, and there's a network effect. You're using it because your friends are using it. That's how these social networking apps got popular in the first place."

So for Line to take hold in the United States, or for Klamr to grow beyond a planning app with a messaging backbone, a mass of people need to choose to use those apps instead of, say, Facebook Messenger.

"It's going to take some amount of momentum to get people away from the social networks they use today," Blau said. "Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn—that's already a lot of messaging people do during the day. Will they want to add another one? We have a ways to go before we see some of these social chat networks really get a foothold."

The success of Snapchat, which seemed at first like a gimmicky app—disappearing messages!—with racy undertones, proves that at least teens are making room in their online social lives for more services if they prove to be cool. Snapchat is processing 350 million messages per day, a number that only continues to grow.

Tango is a Line-like app that is also building steam in the United States. More than 40 percent of its 140 million registered users are Americans, though the app is available in 212 countries. Like Line, Tango offers group chat and photo sharing, and the app recently became a games platform, a strategy it hopes will translate into big profits. Tango is capitalizing on a handful of major trends—mobile, social games, and messaging—while counting on a maybe not entirely accurate idea that teens are tired of Facebook.

"If you're a teenager, the last thing you want to do is be on a big social network your parents are on," said Tango cofounder Eric Setton. "We have the opportunity of becoming a really big social networking function for the next generation."


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