Facebook MessengerA year ago, Facebook’s main app was the most downloaded social networking app in the world for iOS. Today, it’s Facebook Messenger.

Social networking apps in general are growing dramatically on both iOS and Android, in the US, and especially in the rest of the world.

Last year in January, social networking apps were ninth on the App Annie Index in terms of revenue. This January, they shot up to third, behind only games and productivity apps.

Japan’s LINE (confusingly, owned by a Korean company) is the world’s top-grossing social networking app on iOS, with WhatsApp in second place. LINE also holds first place for top-grossing apps on Google Play, with South Korea’s KakaoTalk in third.

These findings all come from a new report by App Annie, which focuses on mobile social networks and charts their enormous growth. The facts – and the charts below – speak for themselves, so I will just add a few quick observations.

  • Now you know why just yesterday Path announced its Version 3, which comes with private messaging (which is front and center in LINE, KakaoTalk, and similar Asian messaging apps, like WeChat), stickers (LINE’s main source of revenue), and location sharing (which the likes of WeChat has had for months).
  • Facebook has been shifting its mobile emphasis to Messenger subtly but surely, and is making it more like its Asian counterparts. Important updates from recent months: video calls; voice messages; emoticons; phone-number sign-ups.
  • Expect turf wars to heat up between LINE, KakaoTalk, WeChat, Kik, WhatsApp, Nimbuzz, and Facebook in the coming months. The mobile social networking space, just like the desktop social networking space, may well turn out to be zero sum. One of these players is ultimately likely to dominate the entire world. As we learned in the first wave of social networking, borders don’t make sense when it comes to the Internet.
  • Mobile social networks will increasingly become gaming platforms. KakaoTalk has already done that to great effect. Revenues from gaming will keep driving the revenue growth of mobile social networks.
  • From now on, “mobile social networks” will likely be the name given to what have until now been described as “mobile chat apps” or “mobile messenger apps.” As the likes of LINE, WeChat, and KakaoTalk are proving, however, the chat aspect is inseparable from the in-built social graph, which is where the real value lies.
  • Mobile social networks will eventually become known just as “social networks,” just as mobile Internet users will inevitably just be defined as “Internet users.”

Now to the charts.

iOS socnet downloads iOS socnet downloads Top categories Top socnet iOS downloads Top iOS socnet apps rev Top non-game Google Play Top non-game downloads GP

(Disclosure: I own 15 shares in Facebook.)