SEOUL — Forget Facebook and Twitter.
Two of Asia’s biggest social media players, Kakao Talk and Line, are growing by making mobile messaging apps an integral part of the lives of young Asians who prefer to communicate more privately instead of shouting out in virtual arenas and risking troubles with trolls — or disclosing aspects of their lives to their parents they’d rather not share.
Kakao Talk is the top messenger app in South Korea, with more users than Facebook or Twitter. People use it to hail cabs and transfer money, advancing toward a cashless society. Even South Korean government officials prefer Kakao chat rooms for communicating with colleagues as opposed to email.
In Japan, where Line users outnumber those on Facebook or Twitter, people buy cute digital stickers to link to messages and use the app to search for music and jobs.
In doing so, the apps are serving as test beds for digital services, demonstrating ways the latest trends in technology and communication can be integrated with daily life in the 21st century.
Above all, they are making money, although some of their products, such as digital stickers, would be a hard sell in other markets. Silicon Valley investors and tech startups everywhere are watching closely.
Here’s a look at Kakao Talk and Line, Asia’s top messenger app companies.
BASE: Headquartered on the southern island of Jeju, South Korea. The app was released in 2010.
OWNER: Kakao, South Korea’s No. 2 Internet search engine, which counts former Naver CEO Kim Beom-su as the largest shareholder.
NUMBERS: 48 million active users globally, including 40 million in South Korea. Sales at the owner of Kakao Talk reached 932.2 billion won ($808.5 million) last year.
HITS: Kakao Talk itself and its cute emoticon characters. The company was able to build on the success of Kakao Talk when it launched Kakao Story, an Instagram-like service which was at one point more popular than Facebook among South Koreans. But its user growth has been slowing. The latest big hit is Kakao Taxi, an Uber-like taxi hailing service.
BASE: Headquartered in Tokyo. Founded in 2011.
OWNER: South Korea’s No. 1 Internet search engine company Naver Corp.
NUMBERS: 215 million active users globally, 68 million in Japan. Recorded 120.7 billion yen ($1.1 billion) in sales last year.
HITS: Line has leveraged businesses such as merchandising of dolls and other goods featuring mascot-like characters such as Brown the bear. It also rakes in revenue from the sale of emoticon stickers, called “stamps” in Japan, to use with Line messages. Many stamps are free or cost very little, and Line has opened stamp designing to the public, enhancing their appeal. Cab drivers, for instance, use special stamps with their industry jargon handy for quick communication with other drivers in their team. Some 2.4 billion such stickers are sent each day, with sales reaching 25.3 billion yen ($224 million) last year. Free voice calls among Line users, including international calls, are another reason for its popularity. (AP)