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Thursday, March 12, 2015

LINE the little green app that communicates success


Line is a little green app that lets users text, voice chat, video chat (conference calls of up to 100 people!), and share photos, movie clips and sound clips. Since its launch only four years ago, Line has become one of, if not the, world's most popular messaging app. Line has become a gaming platform, too, with a thoroughly addictive line-up of mobile phone games such as Line Rangers (the only one I've had any personal experience of in the form of a partner who spends every waking minute playing it on two iPhones, one of them mine!)

The spur to Line's development was the Great East Japan Earthquake. The Japanese employees of South Korea's biggest internet search provider, Naver Corporation, created it as an online way to communicate with each other in the post-disaster period when so much communications infrastructure had been damaged.

LINE on an iPhone, Japan.
LINE on an iPhone

Line was released to the public in June 2011, and in just under two and a half years later had been downloaded over 300 million times. Naver Corporation spun Line off to the newly created Line Corporation, which has overseen its growth worldwide.

Line has expanded its platforms from the intial Android and iPhone to almost all the major platforms mobile and otherwise. Some platforms are said offer a better LINE experience than others, Windows being the least satisfactory. There is a raft of features that differentiates it from other messaging apps, such as the ability to add friends by both shaking their phones in proximity to each other, or by using the built-in camera function to snap the other's QR code. Chats can be set to disappear after a certain time.

Sumo news on a LINE app timeline, Japan.
Sumo news on a LINE timeline
Line's big emoticons, or emoji ("picture-letters") are a massive feature of the app, and people pay to get new ones! There is such a rich array of them expressing all heights, depths and shades of emotions, that users often communicate simply by exchanging icons pretty much unaccompanied by text.

Line's most unique feature vis-a-vis other messaging apps is how it also offers social networking Facebook-style with user homepages to which you add friends make posts and upload images and videos. Users can customize their homepage with pay-for cartoon characters and the like purchasable from the Line shop. The options and apps available within Line are constantly expanding, with Line Pay hovering in the background of most of them.

As with anything new and successful, curmudgeons come out grumbling. One egregious example was the headline in the Yomiuri Shimbun's English language daily newspaper, the Japan News, titled "LINE connects teenagers, flies under adult radar." The poorly written, sensationalist article tried to associate the tragic murder on February 20th of a schoolboy by his schoolmates with their use of LINE, with a graph prominently displayed showing a small spike in murder cases in 2011, the year LINE was launched. With over 300 million users, the anarchic potential has us quaking.

Sensationalist article about LINE in the The Japan News (Yomiuri Shimbun).
Sensationalist article about LINE in the Japan News, March 1, 2015

LINE has almost become as must-have in Japan as a smartphone itself, and it looks unstoppable outside Japan too. Japan has shown that it has what it takes to make a hit with software. Struggling and hidebound Japanese corporations should take a fresh green leaf from LINE's burgeoning book.

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