With payments, mobile social networks may succeed where Facebook has failed
It's just a first step, but Line, Japan's leading mobile chat app-cum-social network, has announced a monetization scheme for Android that lets third-party developers promote their apps by offering virtual currency to users.
Under the scheme, developers can offer "Line coin" to users who download their apps. Users can then use the currency to buy items through Line, including its premium stickers, the app's primary source of income. (An earlier effort to do the same for iOS was abruptly cut off by a disapproving Apple.)
By helping developers make money on its platform, Line is demonstrating a commitment to its ecosystem that Facebook missed in the early days of its platform. For a long time, Facebook didn't let its developers facilitate transactions or sell ads for their apps, which cost it a lot in terms of developer loyalty and faith. That loss was thrown into relief when Apple launched its iOS App Store, which was notable for helping developers make money. Today, Facebook has 1 billion active users, but its platform languishes behind iOS in terms of developer commerce.
The new generation of social networks isn't making the same mistake. The leading players – including not only Line, but also South Korea's KakaoTalk and China's WeChat – have made transactions a high priority. Kakao, for instance, has launched an ecommerce platform called Page, on which users and developers can buy and sell virtual goods. WeChat, on the other hand, has integrated Tencent's Paypal-like Tenpay service into its app. As of a few days ago, users can now buy food at McDonald's right from WeChat.
While Facebook continues to push ahead with product development – Poke, Graph Search, Gifts, Home, Instagram Video – its chief advantage lies in the fact that it serves as an identity network for a seventh of the world's population. One of its great failings is that it has so far been unable to foster a meaningful ecommerce ecosystem among that giant community. Much of that failing can be attributed to its early missteps in dealing with the developers on its platform. Today's mobile messaging networks – which collectively account for more than half a billion users – were no doubt paying close attention.
Facebook must be watching with envy – and more than a little trepidation.
Mobile social networks will be the subject of our first PandoWeekly radio show, a discussion with Kik founder Ted Livingston, broadcast live today at 3pm EST on BlogTalkRadio. We'll also publish the show here on the site.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]