For similar reasons, about 78 percent of teenagers and young people use mobile messengers to plan a meet-up with friends, according to research advisory firm mobileYouth.
Another factor is the rise of the selfie, often silly self-portraits taken at arm’s length with a mobile.
Almost half of the photos on Instagram feeds among people aged 14 to 21 in the UK are selfies, according to mobileYouth.
Sending those photos via a mobile messaging service is safer than broadcasting them on Facebook, since they are less likely to be seen by a boss or dozens of Facebook friends you forgot you had.
Selfies are even bigger on Snapchat, the evanescent photo sharing app that deletes a photo several seconds after it has been viewed.
With about 150 million active users, the service has inevitably become a favored way for teens to send sexy or even naked photos of themselves, an ill-advised practice known as “sexting.”
Yet teens also love Snapchat because it allows them to send inane photos of themselves without fear of leaving a permanent digital footprint. The California-based app is seen as so hot, with so much potential for growth, that it has already been pegged with a US$2 billion to US$4 billion valuation in the Silicon Valley tech community.
Estimates are even higher for WhatsApp, which makes money through an annual subscription; Some observers suggest it could be worth US$5 billion or more.
The final, big reason why young people are gravitating toward messaging apps is that many of these apps no longer do just messaging. They are social networks.
The best examples come out of Asia, including messaging platforms like South Korea’s KakaoTalk, China’s WeChat and Japan’s LINE.
All have tens of millions of users, with WeChat boasting more than 200 million, and take their services beyond offering straight messaging to games, stickers and music sharing. Before one writes off digital stickers as inane, they are a decent moneyspinner for LINE: Of the US$58 million the company made in sales in the first quarter of this year, half came from selling games and 30 percent, or approximately US$17 million, from sales of its 8,000 different stickers. Some are free or, in Spain where LINE has 15 million registered users, cost about 1.99 euros (US$2.66).
Often users choose stickers instead of words when they need to express themselves, one LINE executive said.
Gaming is another money-maker. With KakaoTalk, which is thought to be on 90 percent of all smartphones in South Korea, registered users can choose from more than 100 games they can play with one another and games alone helped the company generate US$311 million in sales in the first half.
A couple of non-Asian messaging apps such as Canada’s Kik and the US’ Tango are turning themselves into full-fledged platforms too, inviting software engineers to create games that run on their apps. They will typically let developers take home half the revenue while taking a 20 percent cut. App stores such as Google Play and Apple’s App Store take the remaining 30 percent.
Tango took this a step further this month when it partnered with music streaming service Spotify to allow its 60 million monthly users to share music clips with one another. Two years ago, Spotify launched a similar partnership with Facebook.