Messaging war survivor Kik retools with new custom features

If you weren’t paying attention, you might think that Kik Messenger was just another victim of the messaging wars. The app hasn’t been updated in more than a year and the company has been pretty quiet.


Turns out Kik is alive and, ahem, kicking, with 30 million registered users — growing at a rate 100,000 new users a day in the last several months — and now it’s out with a new update. To understand the update, it’s important to look at how Kik has amassed its big following, said founder Ted Livingston. He said the app has caught on with younger users, who like the simplicity of the app, with its basic two buttons for chatting and settings. Kik didn’t share how many monthly active users it has.

So when it came time to add more features, Livingston decided to go with a very simple approach. Now when viewing the app, users can swipe to the side to reveal a set of “cards” that work as mini-apps, adding additional features to Kik. 

The first three, which are built in HTML5 and can be installed on a new deck, offer YouTube viewing, sketching and image search. More cards will be added later. Users can receive a message originating through one of the cards, but they’ll need to install the appropriate card to interact with the message.

Livingston said the benefit to this approach is that the main interface remains the same for users. But the app can be customized to go deeper with features for those that want them.

Kik“What we’ve been struggling with the last year and a half is how to take something simple, which is why people love it, and make it feature rich without ruining the simplicity we love,” he said. “We feel this is how you do it.”

In the future, the cards could be how Kik finally starts to make money. Livingston didn’t commit to this idea but he said a company could pay to have their own card listed on Kik. I like the approach Livingston took with the update. A lot of apps start to suffer from feature-creep over time, crowding the basic home page with more and more options. By making additional features optional that can be added like apps, it keeps Kik clean and make it more personal.

Kik has continued to fight on while rivals like GroupMe sold out to Skype, Beluga went to Facebook (s fb) AND others like Fast Society moved away from messaging. Livingston said Kik, which also got into a stand-off with Waterloo neighbor RIM, has grown by becoming a back-channel communication tool for Instagram and MeetMe users. He said 50 percent of users on MeetMe, formerly MyYearbook, have a Kik account.