Twitter is gearing up for its initial public offering, and we have been hearing some news about new features and updates from the social network. For one, Twitter is reportedly considering a spin-off of its direct messaging feature into a stand-alone application, much like WhatsApp, LINE, WeChat and even Facebook Messenger.
DMs have been part of Twitter’s system since launch, and has enabled a means for users to exchange messages privately. However, This was limited to message exchange between users who are mutually following each other, thereby limiting one’s potential contact list. With latest updates from Twitter, users can now opt-in to receive DMs from anyone who follows them, which opens up the system as a potential tool for receiving customer service inquiries (for brands and businesses), as well as tips and leads (for journalists).
In other IPO-related news, a couple of Asian chat app companies are also mulling their own launch in the public markets, namely LINE and Kakao Talk. With user bases of more than 200 million each, these firms are capitalizing on their applications as platforms not only for chat and messaging, but also for content distribution and social networking. LINE, for one, earns tens of millions of dollars per month in sticker sales and in-game purchases. Even Freelancer.com, a platform for freelance professionals to connect with clients, is finalizing its own IPO.
This gives us an idea of how powerful the platform can be, in terms of potential reach and revenue-generation. If you already own the platform, you can find creative ways to monetize and expand on it. Take for instance how Twitter is rumoured to be launching a cross-platorm private chat service, and how a supposedly simple chat app can actually earn from in-app purchases.
Finding creative ways to revitalize
In contrast, we see a company with an existing platform that is on the decline, in terms of market share. BlackBerry was a dominant smartphone platform in its heyday, but has since been supplanted by the likes of Android and iOS. BlackBerry may still hold an ace up its sleeve, with BlackBerry Messenger, which still has a reported user base of about 60 million. The company planned to release a cross-platform variant of BBM this September, although that launch has been delayed several times.
Much has been said about BBM’s potential as a saviour for the company. Even Co-CEO Jim Balsillie proposed before to focus on BBM as a separate cross-platform undertaking, but that did not prosper. The firm focused, instead, on developing BlackBerry 10 and launching its Z10 smartphones, which had disappointing market performance. The company, in an open letter, has tried to allay consumer concerns, focusing on its platform’s security, meant for the enterprise. Perhaps it is in this platform that they will still find their strong point.
Meanwhile, we can point to LINE as an app that has surged in traction as a platform within platforms. On a quarterly basis, the company makes about US$27.4 million on its sticker shop alone, and upwards of US$53.7 million from in-game purchases. LINE has positioned itself as a platform for messaging, information exchange, gaming and social networking, all across different systems and devices, including iOS, Android, Windows and Mac. LINE’s IPO will be reportedly bigger than even Twitter’s. While The Next Web‘s Jon Russell thinks US$28 billion seems a bit steep, the value is in LINE’s potential to build a “mobile-first social platform for the world.”
Taking this platform thinking further, we might consider concerns about market size and growth when companies decide to launch their applications for certain platforms. Take for instance, popular photo-sharing site Instagram, which has about 150 million users snapping filtered photos on their iPhones and Android devices. While Instagram focuses on the mobile user experience, they have not bothered to release native and official Instagram for BlackBerry and Instagram for Windows Phone apps. It’s just not part of the company’s priorities, says Instagram CEO and co-founder Kevin Systrom.
Building on good platforms can expand your market share. If you’re running an app within a walled garden, then you’re limited to the space that your platform offers you. If you build and develop for multiple platforms (or ask the community to help build it for you), then you might have a better chance at gaining traction. On the downside, developers might not want to work with you to build an audience, if they find it not interesting and relevant enough for their needs.
At Echelon 2013 this June, Sangeet Paul Choudary even talked about how platforms are changing the way we run businesses online. Considering the examples we pointed out, is running on a good platform — or building such a platform yourself — the best growth avenue for a startup?