Did Whatsapp Push South African Social Network App Mxit To Extinction?

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Written by Kevin Mwanza

Mxit, South Africa’s popular social networking app, has given up the fight against other global instant messaging apps such as Whatsapp and it  is on its final stretch to “shut down its commercial operations”, Fin24 reported.

The social networking app that started in 2005, looked to be ahead of the curve with 7.4 million active users per month in 2013, spread over 127 countries across the world. This has however dropped to 1.2 million monthly active users as at July 2015, the company said in a statement.

The app was the first instant messaging platform to be launched in South Africa even before the advent of Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp. At some point CNN estimated that Mxit had 10 million users in South Africa, much more that Facebook and Twitter.

“The social platform that introduced South Africans to instant messaging has seen a precipitous drop at a time when most other networks have climbed,” Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, told Fin24.

“We’ve seen the last throw of the Mxit dice.”

Namibian-born software developer and founder Herman Heunis started Mxit in the early 2000s as a platform to help online game players communicate inexpensively with people all over the world.  Instead of communicating via SMS texts, Heunis’ idea snowballed into a more economical way to chat with friends using a mobile instant messenger.

By 2006, Mxit had grown to a visually stunning chat app which allowed users to draw, record messages and upload photos and backdrops also integrates games, health, safety and education information into its social media platform.

The downfall

“Being mobile first we [were] able to solve problems for emerging markets, rather than trying to be a social network that’s usually ‘PC first’ — which becomes a dumbed-down version of itself on mobile,” Francois Swart, MXit CEO told AFKInsider in December 2013.

Mxit, which was initially developed for feature phones that helped it gain popularity to income groups in South Africa that could not afford expensive smartphones back then, started witnessing a fall in user number as smartphones become cheaper over the years.

“People saw that this is an easy application to get on a low-end phone… it made sense for them to use MXit compared to something more complex like Facebook or Twitter,” Mxit’s spokesperson Juan du Toit told Memeburn.

Michael Jordaan, told Fin24 that as smartphones became readily available, Mxit users moved over to Whatsapp and other better designed apps.

“The first thing [Mxit] did wrong is that they became complacent when they were at their peak,” Arthur Goldstuck, a South African tech analyst, told Quartz Africa.

“It was not only the rise of smartphones that led to Mxit’s decline, it was also the rise of other social networks. They woke up too late,” Goldstuck added.