Private messaging apps Signal and Telegram have registered a spike in downloads. According to app analytics firm Sensor Tower, between January 5 and 10 alone, Signal had 2.3 million downloads while Telegram saw 1.5 million new downloads during the same period.
Both the apps have risen in rankings based on app downloads. Signal has gained significant ground in India. The app that was ranked outside the top 1,000 on January 4 as per App Annie, rose to rank six by January 10. During the same period, Telegram which was at 21 climbed to 15.
In comparison, WhatsApp, which has a user base of about 400 million in India, saw a steep decline. Downloads for the app fell by 35% to 1.3 million from 5.2 million. WhatsApp’s rank in the overall top apps list fell from number eight on January 4 to rank 23 by January 10.
Telegram announced that the app has crossed 500 million active users by adding 25 million new users between January 9 and 12. The app’s founder Pavel Durov in a blog said that 38% of the new users came from Asia. Durov said he stands by his promise of ‘not doing deals with marketers, data miners or government agencies’. Similarly, on January 10, the Signal official account tweeted, “There will never be ads in Signal, because your data belongs in your hands, not ours”.
Seeing the high downloads from India, Signal said it will be introducing features like chat wallpapers, animated stickers and an about field in user profiles. It has also increased the group call limit from five users to eight.
Both Signal and Telegram currently claim to run on donations from users. Sanchit Vir Gogia, founder and CEO, Greyhound Research, points out that as these apps add more users and introduce features such as high-quality video calling, audio calls with several people, onboarding APIs, and bots etc, there will be a need to invest significantly behind infrastructure.
In a December 2020 blog post, Durov estimated that Telegram ‘needs at least a few hundred million dollars per year to keep going’.
Because these apps are far behind WhatsApp in their lifecycle, their journey to monetisation will be slow. “They may introduce premium features for paying users as part of their move towards a gradual monetisation,” says Prabhu Ram, head — industry intelligence group, CMR. Telegram plans to bring in special features for businesses and an ad platform for public one-to-many channels.
What is unclear is if the current public conversation around privacy will have a lasting effect on WhatsApp’s user base. In India, the app benefits from the ‘network effect’ — it is valuable because of the number of people who use it. Gogia says that users who are downloading other apps are just testing these apps out for now, and not exiting WhatsApp completely yet.
Because people are making profiles on multiple apps, “as we move forward, we may see that the era of monolithic social messaging platforms is potentially over, and various apps need to co-exist,” says Ram.
Brands have been deploying chatbots on WhatsApp to communicate with consumers, sending them updates on purchases, reminders for payments, etc. “If brands notice that a significant chunk of users is moving away from WhatsApp to other platforms, they may deploy chatbots on these platforms too,” says Gautam Mehra, chief data and product officer, dentsu Asia Pacific and CEO – dentsu Programmatic, South Asia.
But before brands can start deploying their chatbots on alternative apps, “the apps themselves need to show commitment to local markets and ecosystems,” says Gogia.