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Instant Messaging/IM

Counting users in billions - WhatsApp leads messaging gold-rush

Once it was search or portals but today messaging apps are becoming the coveted internet properties that can create unimaginable reach and wealth for vendors and provide users with freebie and low-cost tools for staying in touch with friends, colleagues and others.

Facebook is clearly a believer: it drew the full glare of the world’s attention when it paid the best part of $22bn for WhatsApp last year. Some were shocked, some mocked but a couple of days ago Facebook said it now has 800 million monthly active users (MAUs) on WhatsApp, or about one in nine of us on the planet. Founder Jan Koum also issued a useful reminder in his Facebook post: “Reminder for the press out there: active and registered users are not the same thing.” In other words, beware vendors who included accounts that haven’t been accessed in an age.

WhatsApp’s rate of progress is astonishing. This time last year IDG Connect posted a tongue-in-cheek piece suggesting that at its then rate of progress WhatsApp would have every single person on the planet subscribing by 2082. But the service is currently accelerating, collecting 100 million users every four months and that rate of growth could pull in many more users keen to join a de facto messaging standard. It’s quite possible that we could be counting WhatsApp users in billions within a few years. That’s an extraordinary number of people that Facebook can sell and market to.

But there are plenty of rival big messaging apps, not least from Facebook itself which has about 600 million MAUs for its Facebook Messenger. Everyone wants in on the mobile messaging space. Google has had multiple efforts, sometimes with other features, from the Voice and Hangouts to last year’s Messenger app. Microsoft has moved its messaging app into Skype and Apple has iMessage.

But some of the most significant rivals are on a local basis well away from the US internet giants. Tencent’s WeChat app is huge in China which accounts for the vast majority of its 500 million or more monthly active users. In 2014, Japanese retail giant bought Viber – a cosmopolitan company with founders from Israel, some development in Belarus and registration in Cyprus and Las Vegas – and its 236 million MAU base for $900m. Line is another messaging app with Japanese-Korean parentage (and about 160 million MAUs) that’s especially popular in Asia. The rise in popularity of California-headquartered Tango led Alibaba to take a significant stake.

And all this before we even talk about BBM being one of the few remaining jewels in the Blackberry crown or the fast-rising likes of Snapchat and Kik. Messaging is very hot indeed: expect more M&A action, attempts to grow international reach and lots of incentives for users to subscribe. And just maybe, one day, the acknowledgment that when it paid that huge sum for WhatsApp it got a bargain.

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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