Nowadays, we’re all a bit voyeuristic. We’re addicted to reality
television, tabloids, and celebrity Twitter feeds.
Talmon Marco, founder and CEO of the messaging and voice call
app Viber, knows this all too well, and that’s why his company is
introducing what it calls Public Chats, a new Viber feature that makes it
easier to see what our favourite celebrities and public
personalities are chatting about. It aims to feed the inner
eavesdropper in all of us.
Gossip blogger Perez Hilton, for instance, might use the tool to
talk with other bloggers and celebrities. Models from the agency
Next Model Management might use it to share selfies with each
other. Members of a comedy troupe could use the app to document
their stoned Amsterdam escapades (that actually happened). And we
can watch it all.
It’s not altogether different from what celebrities are already
doing on sites like Twitter and Facebook, but Marco believes that
because Viber lets the average user in on actual conversations, the
content will feel a lot more real. More importantly, however, it’s
something Marco hopes will help differentiate Viber from other
companies like WhatsApp, Kik, and WeChat, which are all jockeying
for the lead in the growing messaging app market.
Over the last few years, the messaging app space has grown
crowded, and the competitors in the space have grown more and more
alike. Now, it seems, the main thing that distinguishes them is the
number of users they have. That’s no small thing for a messaging
platform, which is only useful to people when most of their
contacts are using it too.
By this measure, WhatsApp is by far the most successful, with
some 600 million monthly active users worldwide. Viber, by
contrast, has 210 million. Which is why Marco, who sold the company
to Japanese internet company Rakuten for $900 million (£576
million) earlier this year, is constantly on the lookout for
features that will encourage more users to switch platforms.
Original content, he believes, could do just that.
“We don’t necessarily envision making money directly out of
public chats,” he says. “But this is something for our users to do
, and at the same time, we think it will bring additional users and
show them what Viber can be used for.”
According to Forrester analyst Julie Ask, this is a natural
progression for Viber and, indeed, any messaging app. “This one of
those things a platform like Viber needs to do, even though they’ve
been acquired,” she says. “They’re still a young company, and
they’re trying to do more to get people to spend more time in the
Ask believes celebrities may also gravitate to Viber’s
international audience. “There could be geographies that lets say
Taylor Swift doesn’t have a big following in,” she says. “That’s a
great opportunity to engage wtih fans and drive buzz.”
All that said, Ask adds that Viber certainly isn’t the first to
the celebrity route. China’s WeChat, for one, lets users follow celebrities for a monthly fee.
Plus, she says, there’s already plenty to appease fans on celebrity
Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. To compete with WhatsApp, never
mind these other gargantuan platforms, Viber will need a lot more
than even the most salacious celebrity gossip.
This article originally appeared on Wired.com