If you build it, they will come? Half a dozen or so applications have launched in recent months, hoping to dominate what they all hope will be one of the next big trends in mobile messaging: the “reaction” messenger. That is, these apps utilize a smartphone’s camera to either photograph or record a video of a message’s recipient to see how they react to your text, or other content, like a shared photo or video. The idea is that there’s uncharted territory still left to be explored somewhere in between the static nature of the text message and real-time video chat.
But how big a trend is this, really? And is it catching on?
Many of these “reaction” messaging apps are practically clones of each other, while others vary the experience only slightly. This one records a video reaction. That one records a video reaction or it snaps a photo. And so on.
Here are the top contenders for the would-be “reaction” messaging throne, and a brief description followed by their iOS App Store rank (U.S.) and current funding in parenthesis, if disclosed:
- React Messenger: Adds your facial expressions to each message – basically selfies turned into emoticons. #962
- Reactr: Lets you capture videos and photos, includes some added social features. (No data on App Annie because newly relaunched)
- Samba: A video messenger that lets you share videos and automatically record the reaction in video form as well. #213 ($630,000)
- Dumbstruck: Essentially, the same as Samba above – you record a video and a receive a video reaction in return. #1009 ($170,000)
- Gigglemail: Another that’s like Samba and Dumbstruck, is focused on video-sharing and video reactions. Not ranked in Social. Listed itself “Photo & Video” where they knew competition wouldn’t exist. #144 in Photo & Video.
- Chatwala: Yet another focused on video sharing and video reactions. #785 ($625,000)
- Meatspace: Not a native mobile app, but one where you record your facial expression which is then played in a loop.
- Reactions: A “reactions” messaging app focused on photos designed by noted hacker George Hotz, aka “geohot.” For whatever reason, the app never launched.
With so many apps seemingly vying for dominance here, one would assume this space is rapidly heating up, or is already very popular. The latter is not the case, and the former is questionable. If by heating up you mean a bunch of startups are currently building reaction messengers, then yes, that could be true. If you mean that the market itself is reflecting some sort of shift to or adoption of this new format, well, that’s not quite true – at least not yet.
Today, the iTunes App Store’s Top Charts in the Social Networking category are nearly overrun with mobile messaging apps. (And no, it’s not necessarily a reflection of the still mind-boggling WhatsApp deal – many, if not most, of these applications had been built prior to WhatsApp’s $19 billion exit to Facebook.)
Then, within the general messaging category, there are a number of sub-trends that can be identified. Anonymous or private messaging, for example, seems to be taking off. Apps that connect you with people you don’t know for the purposes of chatting or dating, are also present. Others focused on letting you place free phone calls remain popular. And those that cater to the teen crowd, who are trying to achieve some sense of privacy outside of Facebook where mom and dad can watch their every move, are also seeing growing user bases.
But even though there’s a good handful of “reaction” messengers to choose from, not one has yet to break into the Social Top Charts for any significant period of time. That doesn’t mean that day won’t come to pass – the teen and young adult audience these apps target is nothing if not fickle with their attention. Plus, one could argue that’s it’s still early days for these “reaction” messenger types. That’s true, I suppose – many of these apps are fairly new. They need time to grow and develop their user base; they need to educate a market as to what a “reaction” messenger even is, and they need to perfect the user experience, and so on.
A third, more pessimistic argument, however, might be this: “reaction” messengers are trying to design an experience that doesn’t actually fulfill a need people feel they have.
The startups would argue that’s not so, of course. Because of physical distance or time zones, you can’t always have a real-time video chat, but there’s still a desire for that human face-to-face connection which traditional mobile messaging doesn’t serve, they’d say. “Give it time, the space is new – the people will come!”, founders tell us over and again. And yet, it’s far from a foregone conclusion that will be the case. Even positive reviews of these apps admit their “unnecessary” nature, or that the apps weren’t really something the writer was looking for. Or, as one commenter chimed in: “cool, but a feature not a product.”
In any event, these “reaction apps” have arrived en masse, at a time when mobile messaging is hotter than ever, into an App Store where the most popular apps are in the mobile messaging category. Now is the time to see if they can deliver.