Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

What’s Next for Kik, One of the Original Mobile Messaging Hotshots

Mobile messaging apps — WhatsApp, KakaoTalk, Line, WeChat, Voxer, Kik, etc — are in an interesting spot. They are some of the largest, most-used and best-loved apps in the world. They dominate their various countries and regions. But it’s not necessarily clear how they evolve and become long-lasting businesses. Are they social networks? Alternatives to mobile carriers? Or what?

Kik Messenger was early in this category, launching in late 2010 as the first app that mined users’ address books to find friends when they sign up (before that was more closely regulated).

After explosive growth as a cross-platform alternative to the popular BlackBerry chat app BBM — it got its first million users in 15 days — Kik lost a step when it was blocked and sued by Research In Motion. (That was particularly crushing given Kik founder and CEO Ted Livingston had interned at RIM and stayed in touch with the company as he dropped out of college to found his start-up.)

Livingston said this week that his app has not been standing still. Kik still signs up 100,000 new users per day, for a total of 30 million registered users.

Even after the lawsuit, Kik managed to close $8 million in Series A funding from RRE Ventures, Spark Capital and Union Square Ventures — and $4.3 million since then in bridge funding from the same investors as it has paid its legal bills and plotted its next move.

But the company has not added any new features in the past year except for speed and infrastructure improvements across its various free native apps.

Today, Kik is finally adding features, through a new design that tries to allow users to pick and choose what new stuff they want to add without cluttering up the core Kik experience of fast text messaging.

The idea, said Livingston, is to avoid the fate of applications that add feature after feature and “pivot” upon their core idea to the point that users have no idea why they’re useful.

Kik’s concept is essentially a highly controlled app platform that it calls Cards. Users can opt to add the apps — for instance, a YouTube viewing interface or a sketch pad — to their Kik account. If they don’t add the apps, they can stick with good old messaging. When minimized, the Cards are just a tiny line of pixels along the left side of the app that can be swiped out like a drawer.

The Cards are all built in HTML5 so they are easily transferrable across all of Kik’s native apps.

Livingston is particularly proud of this architecture. “We know we’ll be immediately copied,” he bragged. But he feels that his team’s work in building tools and libraries around the HTML5 code to create the Cards is a defensible advantage for the company.

Unlike other social media sites’ app platforms, Kik Cards won’t be open to outside developers. In fact, the company plans for Cards to be its monetization strategy. Livingston said Kik will charge brands and other companies to make and feature custom Cards.

One-to-one messaging is a vastly underestimated form of social sharing, Livingston contended. “We think we can build the most viral network in the world for sharing content.”

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work