Why messaging apps are so popular

Simon Robic
Head of Product & Marketing @Screeb

Messaging apps have been here for decades. The IRC protocol has been invented in 1988, so even before the WorldWide Web (1989/1990).

10 years after, at the end of the 90’s, a first wave of messaging apps like ICQ, AIM or Yahoo Messenger were already massively popular, yet still a bit complicated to use for those who were discovering Internet with the first ISP offers for everyday people. A second wave in the early 00’s took a key part in our daily lives, with apps like Skype or Blackberry Messenger.

But it was nothing compared to the third waves: the era of messaging mastodons.

Around 2010, we saw the apparition of apps like Viber, Kik, WhatsApp, WeChat, Messenger or iMessage. Today, it’s more than 5 billion people that use a messaging app every month in the world.

But, why messaging apps are so popular?

They have 5 “features” that made their success:

First of all, they are mobile first. They appeared nearly at the same time than the iPhone and took advantage of its app store and its distribution power.

But, second, if they are mobile first they’re still multi-device. You can start your conversation on your mobile, continue it on your desktop and finish it on your tablet. Everything is synced and your conversational experience is great.

Third, they are always-on. With messaging apps, you have the ability to have never ending conversations with your friends and family, where the phone call or the email are more formal and are “ended”. You have a beginning and an end to a phone call. You say “Hi” and “good bye” in an email. In messaging apps you have continuous conversations and people feel closer to you.

Forth key feature, the conversations you have in messaging apps are rich. You can share text, of course, but also pictures, videos, audio, games, etc. The more rich the experience, the more hooked you are. You can have multiple experiences with your friends and so you continue to use those apps.

And finally, they are free. If some countries had unlimited text plans for years, it’s not the case everywhere. So when those apps have been released, being able to talk with your friends and family all day long for free have been a killer feature.

Conversation: the most natural protocol

Another key aspect of messaging apps is that they’re a tool for something deeply rooted in us, as humans: the conversation.

Conversation is the most natural interaction protocol for humans. It’s something that we learn from day one (improving it for years when we are children). That’s something that our species have known to do for thousands of years.

Messaging apps are just a tool for us to continue doing something natural for us. But it’s also why they are so important in our daily lives now.

A key link during lockdown

So it’s not a surprise that, as recent History have shown us,we count on messaging apps during the most difficult times of our lives. During the Covid-19 lockdown, we relied a lot on messaging apps to keep in touch with our friends and families. As the study we made in May 2020 told us (in French), it was our main tool to do that.

A natural and rich experience, reliability, mobility, free-of-charge: a lot of explanations for the popularity of messaging apps.

And since they are now at the heat of our daily lives, that’s why we made Screeb to revamp the survey experience.

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