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The Line App: A Story of Earthquakes, Plastics and Stickers

line_logo-svgHistory is ripe with stories of products developed for one use — only to discover they were actually better suited for other purposes.

For those living in my home town of Cincinnati, we’re quite familiar with the story behind a 1930’s product used to clean coal residue from wallpaper.  However, children at a local nursery school found the product better suited to be used to create Christmas ornaments.

Realizing the product’s potential use with children — and the demise of coal heating, the product was later introduced as Play-Doh. By the 1950’s it was sold in toy stores throughout the country.

For decades, people across the globe have been treated for high blood pressure. However, one specific drug was found to have grown hair on the heads of balding patients taking the medicine.  After years of testing the product in a topical form, the FDA approved  Minoxidil — otherwise known as  Rogaine in the treatment of baldness.

An Earthquake Helped To Create An App?

The Line App that currently has over 200 million active monthly users had a similar history.   The app was developed by NHN Japan for communication following Japan‘s devastating Tōhoku earthquake in March 2011. The earthquake had seriously damaged telecommunications infrastructure nationwide, forcing many to communicate via Internet-based communication programs.  This effort  to communicate following that disaster resulted in what would eventually be known as the Line app. Shortly afterwards it was released as a consumer-oriented app.

By  2012, developers added new features  such as “Home” and “Timeline.”  These updates to the growing social media app allowed users to share stories with the growing community of Line contacts. These features were somewhat similar to the features of other social media services.

However, since 2013 Line has continued to evolve and as mentioned has over 200 million active monthly users — 25 million of which are in the United States.

Here’s To You Mrs. Robinson: Plastics?

According to Statistica, LINE is ranked among the ten most successful mobile messenger apps in the world. It is the second most successful on the Asian market,

So how does Line differentiate itself from the gang of other digital want-a-bees? Well, remember the 1967 movie THE GRADUATE.  Mr. McGuire takes Dustin Hoffman’s character  aside during his graduation party and issues one word of advice:

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman): Yes, sir.

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) : Yes, I am.

Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

Well… if the Graduate were remade today, Mr. McGuire’s one word of advice for Benjamin might be: STICKERS.

That’s right! Stickers.

Line provides volumes of stickers to its users to express emotions that are difficult to put into words. Most stickers are free of cost — however many others can be purchased or won through other third-party games. LINE users send close to 2 billion stickers a day. If only a fraction of those are purchased — it’s quite a revenue stream. In essence this strategy of premium content upgrades helps to drive revenue on many other apps — particularly with programs that provide no advertising within the actual app.

The program provides a direct pop-up message box for reviewing and responding to comments — making it rather easy as a communication tool.

Like other similar apps you may share media such as photos, videos and music with other users. Additionally it works with your phone to provide your location in addition to facilitating emojis, and those pesky  and profitable stickers I mentioned earlier.

The app provides what might be considered real-time confirmation of your messages when they’ve been sent and received –in addition to providing a little hidden chat attachment which allows users to hide and delete the history of that chat.

Like other apps it allows users to make free voice and video calls — and allows users to share media and chat with groups of up to 200 people.

Bulletin Boards

The death of the era of bulletin boards has been grossly exaggerated as Line provides bulletin boards to post, comment and “like” content users see from their Line friends.

The board provides a “theme-oriented” homepage and timeline — allowing users to post pictures, text and… yes stickers and many other features.

Mobile Games

Line has taken the time to create many partnerships with mobile gaming developers such as Disney/Star Wars, Peanuts and others. Additionally they’ve added many other apps that integrate seamlessly in the entire Line eco-system. We’ve see this approach from apps such as Kik. To date, their greatest success seems to be the Tsum Tsum app developed by Disney. This app is similar to Candy-Crush and just as addictive.

What? Stuffed Digital Toys?

Borrowing from the business strategy of Disney, where everything can be monetized and reproduced as a toy, stuffed animals, lunch box or backpack, the folks at Line also operate a chain of retail stores in Japan.  This is quite a different approach to monetizing their app — but certainly in line with what Disney has done with their cartoon characters. It’s working well in Japan. Time will tell if this new Line approach will come to an area mall in the United States or Europe.

They carry quite a selection of inventory such as Harajuku, from sticky notes to stuffed animals and everything in between. A store owned by a social media company is a horse of a different color. However, understand that monetizing social media is somewhat still a nascent industry. I look for more such strategies by others in the future.

Should I Let My Kid Use Line?

So you’re wondering, “As a parent should I be concerned about the Line app?” In short, no more than you might be concerned with any other app.

In the United States, the size of the Line user-base is still rather small. It remains to be seen whether the western-world adopts this app given the many other apps that have imilar features. That said, understand that if you currently use monitoring tools such as uKnowKids or Teen Safe, these platforms don’t currently allow monitoring of the Line App. However, I suspect if it gains traction it won’t be long before Line is added to their portfolio of such capabilities.

For now, keep an eye out for this interesting app rising from the east. It appears to be a rather safe place for now — but much like Play-Doh — as with many things, kids have a way of finding other uses for these apps.

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