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MTN NokNok shutting down

SMSs went out yesterday informing MTN users who had subscribed to NokNok in the past and if you visit the NokNok website it simply says it’s shutting the service down at the end of this month.

It’s hardly surprising. The product was ill-conceived, poorly rolled out and was hardly supported by the network operator.


MTN and Vodacom both got an IM product off the ground late 2007 with NokNok from MTN and Meep and The Grid from Vodacom. At the time, MXit has been going from strength to strength and despite the networks being evasive about the cannibalisation of SMS revenue, there can be little doubt that MXit was making enough of an impact to get them to sit up and take notice.

But Meep and NokNok in particular were poorly conceived and the planning and execution of the products were weak. The networks seemed to fail to understand that MXit was a community that was developed and encouraged to grow. Dropping a product into the market, sending out SMSs about it and doing a bit of advertising in an attempt to get people to register was not going to have the desired impact.

And in the case of MTN, the product was buggy when it launched, resulting in disillusionment among early adopters, which made it even harder to get the product off the ground. And given how IM evolved towards the end of the decade (which I’ll get into lower down), the writing was on the wall for NokNok.

Vodacom killed off Meep from November 2009 and continued with The Grid, which is a more complex product which combines IM with a concept like the FourSquare application to allow users to chat and leave updates at locations on a map.

And so the product once hailed as the potential MXit killer is shutting down.

The evolution of IM

The IM landscape has changed significantly since the early says of MXit in South Africa. Apart from MXit, there were few other options for IM and the likes of Skype, and to a lesser degree MSN (now Windows Live) did not have the greatest penetration onto different makes and models of handsets.

However, that changed quickly as the Instant Messaging market diversified in two important ways. Firstly, the MXit type applications, while being a closed platform (you could only talk to MXit users), developed community integration, wallets to purchase content, image sharing, chat rooms and so on.

Then a wave of open architecture applications like Fring and Nimbuzz hit the market. These messenger applications allowed integration into Yahoo messenger, Windows Live, Skype, Google Talk, ICQ and so on. This opened up the possibility of chatting to various users on various networks from different interfaces as well as allowing mobile to PC chat.

These applications also allowed you to buy credits and call out to landlines and cellphone numbers.

But then Skype got stroppy with cutting Fring and then Nimbuzz integration.

Skype realised that these IM clients were now becoming competition carrying the same services as well as a level of integration that Skype did not have. Apart from the integration with other IM clients, these applications also started to offer Facebook and Twitter integration too.

How ironic that Skype also cut off its Windows Mobile application only to be bought by Microsoft several years later.

At the same time Skype ramped up its development to get more versions of the Skype mobile client ready for different makes and models of handsets.

By this time the IM market had gained serious momentum and currently there are a plethora of choices to choose from both in the PC space and on mobile. In the mobile space, along with the likes of Nimbuzz and Fring, others started to do well too including Trillian, IMO.IM, Meebo messenger and WhatsApp.

What was significant in the smartphone world is that many of these apps became downloadable through the various app stores, giving these applications a serious advantage in getting penetration into the market.

In a South African context, it’s interesting that WhatsApp has done so well to break into the local market. Being an easy way of connecting to other users (via a cellphone number) along with handset manufacturers like Nokia giving it significant airtime, the application has become very popular in South Africa among older age groups of user in particular. Interestingly, Skype has not shut off access to IMO and it works on most smartphone platforms.

BlackBerry Messenger has also become really strong with BlackBerry showing significant growth both in the business sector and student markets, while Nimbuzz and Fring continue to do well, particularly with their penetration onto Nokia handsets as well as the smartphone market.