What's the deal with Line, the world's fastest-growing social network?


Pay attention, everyone: There's a social network out there that recently achieved 50 million users in just 399 days. It's called Line, and its popularity is growing in the United States. As of Sept. 6th, it was the 20th most popular free app at the iTunes store, even beating out Facebook Messenger. It's currently available on iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows phones, and desktop apps are available for both Mac and PC.

What sets Line apart? 

Line allows you to make free phone calls and send free text messages (replete with extremely cute and varied "stickers" and emoticons), plus maintain a Facebook-esque Timeline, play games, and even share your photos embellished with stamps and hand-drawings. 

The network is heavily monetized in the way games like Farmville are monetized - it's free to use, but enticing upgrades and special items will cost you a couple bucks apiece.

Whose Line is it, anyway? 

(Sorry, couldn't resist). 

Young adults seem particularly drawn to the network. In fact, 60% of Japanese women in their 20s and 30s use it every day. And with Facebook's dwindling "cool factor" among younger demographics (as parents begin using the network in increasing numbers), I can definitely see Line becoming the go-to network for younger Americans to talk to their friends away from prying eyes.

Characters you'll find in Line's extensive "stamp" library

Characters you'll find in Line's extensive "stamp" library

How do brands use Line?

Unlike Facebook, Line isn't free for brands, and messaging frequency is very tightly controlled. Not only that, but once you stop paying, your presence on the network vanishes.

These strict controls, however, seem to have a very positive impact on engagement between consumers and brands.

According to research commissioned by Line, more than half of female users follow official brands. In addition, 63 percent of all users read brand messages, 32 percent have used a coupon delivered via Line, and 27 percent have clicked on a link. ...One of the most remarkable aspects of Line’s fast rise and its ad-funded business model is that so many businesses have bought into it so quickly. [AdAge]

For comparison's sake, only 33 percent of users follow a brand on Facebook

Nonprofits take heed, however: the price for using Line to spread your message is steep, at least in Japan: According to AdAge, "a four-week campaign with five messages will cost 8 million yen ($81,000), while a 12-week campaign offering 15 messages (at a maximum of two per week) will set you back 15 million yen ($151,000). "

How does it compare with other social networks? 

Here's one of my chats from testing out the app.

Here's one of my chats from testing out the app.

Generally, Line feels like a much cuter version of Facebook.  It's got a Timeline, makes it easy to share photos (and encourages you to embellish those photos with fun "stamps" and drawings), and has some seriously adorable "stamps" and emoticons for the chat part of the app. It even encourages you to journal your favorite moments with each friend in the "notes" part of the app, which lets you save photos, quotes, etc. in one place (sort of like a Google Document that you can both access).

I ran into a glitch on the Android version where the chat refused to let me type once in awhile, which was remedied by opening and closing the "chat settings" menu.

One of the things I especially appreciate about Line is that, when you first sign up, it connects you with friends based on whose phone numbers you have, as opposed to email addresses; and the default, mercifully, is only to send friend requests to your friends who are already using the app.  I think this setup will help ease the "overfriending" problem I see happening on Facebook a lot. 

I don't know if Line is something I would use every day (how long until the novelty of the hyper-cuteness wears off, I wonder?), but it's definitely fun, and having a social network that more tightly controls brand messages will definitely be appealing for some. Also, the free phone calls and texting options will be a big selling point for people with limited plans, or people who make a lot of international calls.

What do you think of Line? Post your thoughts in the comments.