Canada-based messaging app Kik typically flies under the radar of many, but today the service sat in tech spotlight after it hit 100 million registered users, putting its modest 26-year-old founder and CEO Ted Livingston in a slightly difficult position.

Waterloo-based Livingston prefers to focus building his product than pushing out user numbers or doing marketing (he told us last week that the PR team pushed him to disclose the 100 million milestone), but the fact is that Kik is a company worth talking about for many reasons.

With half of its userbase in the US, it almost certainly has a larger presence in America than much-fêted Snapchat — we’d know for sure if Snapchat released its actual user numbers — while it has become the de facto messenger for Instagram — over 18 million photos on the service are tagged #Kik — though of course the Facebook-owned service has its own messaging channel as of today.

That’s not quite all.

Twitter seems likely to introduce its own messaging product — after adding photo uploads to its Direct Messaging service, a first update for its private messaging channel for god-knows-how-long. One unique aspect of a standalone Twitter DM app would be that it doesn’t require a user’s phone number for registration or use. Yup, you guessed it, Kik already ticks that box.

All three of these points are reasons that Kik has grown its user base to 100 million registrations from just 30 million this time last year, Livingston says.

  • It appeals to young Americans (a bandwagon that attracts more as more sign-up)
  • It is hugely popular (almost viral) on the most popular photo app of today
  • It has a clear differentiator over WhatsApp and others, people don’t get your number if they become your friend – while you can transfer IDs across devices

That’s the current, however, and Kik is keeping its eye on the future, which Livingston believes will be… the Web.

You were probably expecting something far grander, but let’s recap.

Regular readers will know Kik introduced its HTML5-based ‘Cards’ content platform last year, the idea being that user can customize their messaging experience by installing features like GIFs, YouTube search and games into Kik with a fast, efficient, in-app download. (No need to visit an app store, something that can frustrate when using WeChat, Line, Tango or other rivals.)

kik cards Kik reaches 100 million users   shows Instagram and Twitter how messaging is done

Unlike Twitter and Instagram, which see messaging as a ‘backchannel’ that merely provides additional functionality to users, Livingston and Kik see content as an essential part of messaging — in fact, Livingston sees Kik as “the browser done right for mobile.”

As I mentioned earlier today when Nimbuzz added in-app content ‘search and share’ — bringing the Web to users is one of the new quandaries messaging apps face. Sure, they can facilitate chat, provide free calling, video calling, games and more — but how do you engage users without forcing them to leave your app to use the Internet?

Kik Cards isn’t the perfect answer, but in allowing HTML5-based content, Kik has at least dropped many barriers facing developers who want to tap into messaging, but must integrate SDKs and use APIs to support chat apps and social products.

Livingston says that Kik’s 32 cards have garnered an impressive 145 million downloads to date — one VC-backed company even pivoted its business entirely based of off the success of a card that clocked 1 million downloads in one day.

photo 1 horz 730x391 Kik reaches 100 million users   shows Instagram and Twitter how messaging is done

If there is one weakness for Kik it may well be resources. Its hiring process is unique — as we mentioned in a recent company profile, all staff come aboard part-time before being hired full-time — while it is also based in Canada rather than Silicon Valley, and does precious little marketing.

Livingston says that past experience — notably a lawsuit from BlackBerry, his former employer, which nearly took the company down in 2010 — accounts for Kik’s relatively quiet marketing voice. But with people increasingly waking up to the service that Pando’s Hamish McKenzie recently called the ‘Dark Horse of the Internet’, Kik’s success is becoming apparent to more people… and not just from inside the tech industry.

This image — via Benedict Evans and Pando — shows increasing numbers of Google searches for Kik, the recent spikes account for when Kik announced and then finished developing Cards. It may not be scientific research, but Google is the Web’s primary search engine and reflective of what many hundreds of millions of people are interested in.

kik google trends 1 1 730x271 Kik reaches 100 million users   shows Instagram and Twitter how messaging is done

Headline image via Fernando Sanchez Cortes / Shutterstock