One of Canada's hottest startups, instant messaging firm Kik Interactive Inc., said Wednesday it has topped 200 million registered downloads of its mobile chat application. At the same time, the firm defended its ongoing strategy of quantifying the app's popularity by highlighting a figure some believe is overblown.
Chief executive Ted Livingston said in a blog post that rival chat applications "make a big deal" about monthly active users, or the number of registered users who generate any activity on their services during the previous month. Waterloo, Ont.-based Kik, by contrast, only publishes the number of people who have signed up for the service.
Some observers have said that makes it difficult to assess exactly how popular Kik is, although it consistently ranks as one of the 20 most popular free apps downloaded to Android devices and in the top 30 for Apple handhelds, according to data analytics website App Annie.
Rivals Snapchat and WhatsApp publish monthly active users as a proxy for the number of people who use their services on an ongoing basis. But Mr. Livingston said monthly active users is "a metric so easy to game that it becomes almost meaningless," arguing that apps can goose their user figures by counting those who click on a holiday greeting. "That's not for us," he said.
Vancouver-based venture capitalist Boris Wertz said "registered users are usually an imperfect metric to use so almost every social network has moved to report monthly active users … My guess would be that Kik's engagement is much higher than Snapchat's, but monthly active users [measure] is much smaller.
"The core question, long-term, is if this is a winner-takes-all market or not. I'm pretty sure WhatsApp [with more than 700 million monthly average users] has won the mainstream texting market and Snapchat and Kik are fighting it out for the younger demographics."
To counter the doubters, Kik released an "engagement research" survey of 1,000 social media users in the United States aged 14 to 25. The report by a third-party research firm showed users spent more time using Kik each time they sign on than those who use Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and Twitter (WhatsApp wasn't included in the survey). However, the report also showed that less than 40 per cent of respondents used Kik, compared to 65 per cent or more for the others.
Kik has raised more than $70-million (U.S.) from venture capital firms, primarily in the U.S., but trails Snapchat, which has raised close to $500-million, and WhatsApp, which Facebook Inc. bought last year for $19-billion. Asian app providers such as TenCent Holdings, owner of the popular WeChat service, have also commanded multibillion-dollar valuations. Kik has struggled to earn revenues, and is now trying to expand its platform to bring in youth-oriented brands such as Vans and Funny or Die to communicate with its core 14-to-25-year-old users. It is also adding services such as games and e-commerce offerings in the hope of becoming the defining "mobile-first" chat application for young people in North America.
Kik has sparked controversy in other ways. Because its primarily young users can use Kik to communicate free of parental controls on their smartphones, one website recently listed it among the "8 worst apps for your kids" along with SnapChat, saying Kik has "more to do with young teens flirting and sexting than just keeping up with friends."