Transforming the global conversation

No wonder so many of us blunder into lamp-posts and each other rather than looking where we’re going.

But which dedicated chat app do you use? WhatsApp, Snapchat, Viber, Line? That largely depends on where in the world you live.

In China the biggest chat network is WeChat; in Japan the market leader is Line; KakaoTalk rules OK in Korea; Kik is huge in Canada and the US; Hike bosses India; while in the Arab world niche networks such as Palringo and Soma dominate.

And the number of chat platforms continues to proliferate, as tech companies aim to emulate the eye-watering valuations achieved by the leaders.

Snapchat was recently valued at nearly $20bn (£15bn). Facebook bought WhatsApp for $22bn in 2014 and this week changed the app’s privacy policy to allow businesses to message its billion-plus users directly.

In July, Line raised about $1.3bn in a stock market flotation that valued the company at around $6bn. And now chat networks are even investing in each other, with China’s WeChat recently leading a $175m funding round in India’s Hike network.

But can the market sustain so many platforms? Can we have too much chat?

Talkaholics

In 1993, US researchers James C McCroskey and Virginia P Richmond created the Talkaholic Scale, a method of identifying people who were aware of their tendencies to “over-communicate in a consistent and compulsive manner”.

Initially it was SMS and text messaging that made such communication compulsive. Then it was instant messaging with text, photos and videos.

And now you can access banking, shopping and other services within these chat apps.

“WhatsApp, WeChat, Line, Snapchat and a handful of others would seem to have the platform side sewn up as we head towards a one-stop-shop approach, where messaging apps become almost a command line for people’s lives,” says Eamonn Carey from Techstars, the tech start-up accelerator.

So how do the newcomers differentiate themselves in such a crowded market and keep their users loyal?

Chat goes niche

The trend is towards chat that can be conducted in a safe place by users who share a common interest.

“Niche networks will have a big role to play in what otherwise is a saturated market,” says Mr Carey.

For example, London-based Palringo is a social chat platform that helps people find games that can be played in chat groups of up to 2,000 people.