Messaging App Usage in Emerging Markets


Sending a message to someone from your phone is no longer as simple as typing a few characters using the number pad and hitting send. Smartphone users now have dozens of messaging apps to choose from, complete with emojis, gifs, and video—all of them relying on data connections instead of SMS. Messaging apps also demonstrate tremendous network effects. Just as a fax machine is useless if you’re the only one that has one, the more of your friends using any particular app, the more useful it is to you.


As a consequence, entire cities and countries tend to settle on just one or two messaging applications over time, making it increasingly difficult for new players to enter the market. While we expect a clear winner in each market, who wins and how is an entirely different question.

The network effects of messaging apps

Our mission at Jana is to make the Internet free for the next billion people and these messaging apps can use a lot of data. To better serve our users, we collect and analyze information on which apps get the most usage and how much data they consume. Combining this data with location data yields an eye catching view of the messaging ecosystem.  


In the map above, we’ve plotted one dot for each of the millions of active mCent users. The colors represent each of the eight most-popular messaging apps—WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, BBM, Line, Skype, WeChat, and Viber. When plotted on the map, geographic patterns are immediately visible. 


Messaging App Usage Rates by Country
Usage rates of messaging apps among mCent members in different countries. Usage rates are defined as the fraction of users that have each messaging app running in the background over a two week period.

WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger dominate in markets like India, Brazil, and Mexico, while BBM and Line are more popular in Indonesia. China is dominated almost entirely by Tencent’s WeChat.


The power of network effects is perhaps most apparent at geographic borders. Despite the relative proximity of Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia, the most popular messaging app is different in each country—BBM, Facebook, and WhatsApp, respectively. In India, eastern cities like Kolkata have higher usage of Facebook Messenger and Google Hangouts than northern cities like New Delhi.


If you get as excited about this data as we do and want to help make the Internet free for a billion people, visit our careers page.