Friday 2 December 2016

A message to the wired, an omen for the banks

Published 07/06/2015 | 02:30

These apps offer access to a demographic that's less enamoured of old-school media channels. They're not passive consumers of media, they create and share content. And increasingly it's video.
These apps offer access to a demographic that's less enamoured of old-school media channels. They're not passive consumers of media, they create and share content. And increasingly it's video.

Let's talk about the huge range of messaging apps. Many of them may have started life as text message alternatives - but they are evolving in weird and wonderful ways.

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Viber has created a public chat feature that's stepping on social media's toes; it has signed up model agencies, radio stations, sports stars and online gossip merchant Perez Hilton to take part.

Snapchat has hired a high-profile CNN political reporter to head its new news division, an indication that it's aiming to make waves in next year's American presidential campaign.

The University of Florida is partnering with anonymous location messaging service Yik Yak on a campus-wide newsfeed experiment.

And Facebook wants to be a player in this space so much that it bought WhatsApp, tried to buy Snapchat and has spun off its own messaging service into a separate app.

So why are these apps on the up and where are they headed? Well the reason for the hooplah is simple: its users. Lots of them. Tencent's WeChat has over 500 million monthly active users (or MAUs to you acronym fans).

Another Asian app, Line, has over 200 million MAUs, while WhatsApp boasts a whopping 725 million MAUs. To put that in context, Twitter claims to have just over 300 MAUs.

What's more, these apps offer access to a demographic that's less enamoured of old-school media channels. They're not passive consumers of media, they create and share content. And increasingly it's video.

Video racked up a dramatic 64pc of overall web traffic in 2014. And mobile video is pulling further ahead of desktop video consumption - now accounting for 55pc of traffic, up from 52pc in 2013.

The most dramatic growth in traffic is down to user-generated and shared videos. This is no surprise, given that Facebook is now clogging up newsfeeds with four times more video than it did a year ago. But messaging apps are playing their part in video's growth too. Snapchat's popularity means it's now driving huge levels of data - both downloads and uploads.

Here's what Vittorio Colao, CEO of Vodafone Group, said on a recent earnings call: "I couldn't believe my eyes when I heard the statistics from the UK. In the UK, if you take all the messaging apps, so Facebook, WhatsApp, whatever, Google, whatever, 75pc of the traffic today is Snapchat - which means that the upload and the different way of communicating is actually stimulating a lot of usage."

So the multimedia-focussed messaging apps will feed the audience's desire for video content and drive an ever-increasing demand for data. But others are eyeing a different prize. At least that's according to Kleiner Perkins' Mary Meeker. Meeker is an analyst who produces an annual Internet Trends Report that's extensive in terms of present trends and future predictions.

This year's instalment pointed out that six out of the top 10 most popular apps in terms of global use, are messaging apps. So it's no surprise that Meeker forecasted they have the potential to become central communications hubs.

However, she also added that they may also become "cross-platform operating systems that are context-persistent communications hubs for more and more services."

Quite a mouthful. But what does it mean? Well, she seems to be getting at how these apps are realising their potential beyond the realms of messaging.

As communications platforms, they are less showy than their social media counterparts. They facilitate ongoing dialogues among peers, not public displays where users present an idealised version of themselves. They're rooted in reality, and as such are ideally suited to helping with real-world problems.

And some are trying just that.

Take WeChat, for example. In South Africa it has launched a courier service, which, according to the official blurb "transforms your phone into a delivery remote control."

In Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and the Philippines, WeChat users can browse nearby restaurants' menus and order food in app.

But perhaps the best fit for this sort of expansion is allowing users transfer money as well as messages between each other. And since 2013, Chinese WeChat users have been able to do just that. In fact during the Chinese New Year celebrations last February, WeChat users sent each other 1 billion cash-filled virtual red envelopes.

Never one to be outdone, Facebook now allows users of its Messenger app in the US to send each other money too. The question is whether these apps can incorporate financial functionality at scale into users' habits.

I wouldn't bet against it.

A recent study by Goldman Sachs found that 33pc of those born between 1980 and 2000 don't think they will need a traditional bank in five years. And 50pc expect tech companies to overhaul the banking system.

Messaging apps are ideally placed to do the heavy lifting of that overhauling task - combining as they do, identity, community and the ability to pass information and data of any kind. Come for the messaging, stay for the hassle-free money transfers.

Sunday Indo Business

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