Rakuten Viber, a world-leading messaging app with one billion users in 190 countries, has been a leader in cross-platform messaging and voice-based communication worldwide.
Its new features, including Viber Lenses, have been designed to support Viber’s commitment to simplify usability and ensure privacy. CEO of Rakuten Viber, Djamel Agaoua, recently shared his thoughts with Khabarhub in an exclusive interview. Excerpts:
What is the current status of Rakuten Viber in communication products both globally as well as locally?
Rakuten Viber is running for more than 10 years now, which has been a fantastic journey with 10 years of growth, and the same number of years of stronger relationships with users around the world. We have a robust presence in over 190 countries.
In fact, Viber is the leading app used by the vast majority of the people of these countries. We are growing every year. Last year, we grew by over 20 percent in terms of audience, and 30 percent in terms of revenue.
When we look at Nepal specifically, we have a trustful relationship with it. We are caring a lot because we have a trustful relationship with the people of Nepal.
There are over 10 million Viber users in Nepal, and the number is growing every year. We grew 20 percent last year. We see this number since people are more convinced that Viber is the best communication platform for them.
How has the current COVID-19 pandemic made an impact on Viber in terms of day-to-day operations, innovation, marketing, or planning?
Pandemic is, of course, hindering every company in the world. First thing is that we make sure that our employees are protected from the pandemic.
We organize ourselves to work from home. Meanwhile, we also did our strategic homework to play our part in this incredible time and situation.
We made it a point to comprehend that people use communication platforms while working from home. One thing which was missing was the video group call.
We, meanwhile, quickly implemented the video group call as well. We were planning to implement it at the end of 2020 but we implemented it at the beginning of the year. Similarly, we have also extended the video group calls, and the audio call limitation.
We want to make sure that Viber can be used in any kind of situation for people working from home, for their family needs, for their professional needs, for their kids, among others.
Secondly, we also disseminated accurate and legitimate news about the pandemic. We all know that there is some fake news especially on Facebook, and other social platforms giving out false information, the spread of misinformation, or disinformation.
Still, there are instances of social media platforms being used for propagating fake news. And, in a bid to control this trend, we made a partnership with international organizations like WHO or local organizations such as local health ministry organizations to make sure that you could, on Viber, find fact news about the pandemic, about restriction, about what could be done, about protective measures, about vaccination.
And, in some countries, we even support the vaccination process by creating local authorities’ chatbots to make an appointment for vaccination.
We thought of supporting the people in this challenging time. We also thought that Viber, in this context, needs to be more important than any other communication platform.
We, therefore, started two types of journeys. One is to allow users to use Viber for financial accessories – to send money to each other, to send money for some businesses, among others.
Likewise, we also started, in some countries, including Nepal with a partnership with a company called eSewa. We allow eSewa users to send money. Moreover, we have plans to roll out these features to other countries shortly.
We also announced fun features in partnership with Snap. We integrated Snap camera technology into our app. Currently, we are pushing some Viber Lenses with new features that youth and even the mature ones will be able to use to send, produce and create funny contacts for their friends and families.
You talked about fake news. Do you have a mechanism to combat those types of fake news?
Yes, we invest a lot in this topic. It’s like cancer for communications and social platforms. We believe that a person with cancer has to fight back to be cured.
If you fight you can win, but if you don’t fight, you lose. We have seen other platforms which do not spend money on this topic as they have an interest in fake news.
We know that fake news spreads seven times faster than real news. We want to protect our users and keep them safe. So, we spend a lot of money to tackle fake news. We spend on artificial intelligence tools, and also try to track communities.
However, to ensure accurate news are provided to our users, especially during these challenging times, the only thing we can do is to promote news from verified sources and deal in partnership with news sources that are verified and guaranteed.
That’s what we do to compensate for this type of knowledge. We made this partnership with organizations like health organizations or with news portals that produce verified news and analyses.
How are users benefited from Viber Lenses? Could you also elucidate a bit about it?
Viber Lenses are an uplifting addition to the app’s existing sticker collections, which allow users to express themselves visually while chatting away.
And the adoption of Snap’s Camera Kit, Bitmoji, and Creative Kit by Viber are additional ways for Viber to bring people closer together and make those connections even more meaningful and enjoyable.
In the Viber camera, there is a section of lenses. Every day we have 20-50 lenses available. One can use it to produce pictures, videos, or gifs using those lenses.
For users, it can be very simple to create images, videos and gifs at the first step. In the second step, users can create stories (short video format) to share on Viber and outside Viber.
Likewise, we also have plans to add between 50-70 additional Lenses per month, amounting to at least 300 Lenses by the end of 2021, and businesses will have the opportunity to create their own exclusive Lenses on Viber.
The World Wildlife Fund, FC Barcelona, and the World Health Organization are among the first Viber partners to offer new Lenses on the messaging app.
The customized Lenses will boost engagement between users and the brands they love on the Viber platform, while the ability to offer sponsored and branded Lenses will provide an additional revenue stream to Viber.
Moreover, Snap’s partnership with Rakuten Viber is also a win-win situation as it helps us expand our Augmented Reality technology into regions where Viber already has a solid footprint, and help Viber’s users express themselves through AR on the Viber platform.
Through this partnership, we want to empower the creativity of our users with AR, and we’re looking forward to inspiring new fun-filled ways for people to keep in touch with their friends and family members.
Viber is more than a messaging app. It not only connects people, but is also a place where users can create entertaining, exciting, and rewarding content to share with their communities.
The good part is that the coronavirus pandemic has helped you to increase the number of Viber users. Is it true?
Yes, it is true. There is an impact on the level of users’ engagement. Our users are using it more during the pandemic to search for the right information and communicate with each other.
And, of course, they are engaged on their favorite digital platforms. Moreover, the company is growing every year. It is growing by over 26 percent in Nepal specifically as people are happy to use Viber. The engagement of users is faster during the pandemic period.
As you said engagement of people is increasing? How does Viber manage users’ data privacy?
Around five years ago, we decided to protect our users from any risk of the communication they share with anyone.
We implement by default end-to-end encryption for all calls and messages. Every chat with friends and families will be encrypted end-to-end. The encryption key is on the devices. The file goes through our servers but we cannot go through them.
Secondly, once the messages and calls are delivered we don’t keep the chats. It is destroyed. Even if Viber is hacked, or if we have some problem, hackers would not find your conversation.
This is very important because by doing this we make sure that we promise our users that their chats are protected and, moreover, it prevents us to read your conversation.
We know that freedom of speech can be challenging sometimes, and it is important for users to know that in Viber nobody will be listening to their conversation except the people they are discussing with.
Viber has competitors like Facebook, WhatsApp, among others. Why should someone use Viber?
Security is obviously a big difference. Facebook and WhatsApp basically scan everything that you do. It can scan your picture and put it in your profile. They even share information. To be honest, they work on revenue. They send you adverts.
We don’t do such types of work. It is a big difference. We don’t scan your picture, we don’t see your chat, and we don’t listen to your calls. We keep them private. The second type of feature is the lens, which other platforms do not have.
Viber app is a great application where there is fun, there is news, and where you can communicate, and send money to friends, families and businesses.
How do you rate the users’ feedback?
Our app is available on PlayStore and AppStore. We receive tens of thousands of feedback every day. In Viber, we have a support team that receives feedback directly from the users and act accordingly.
We also have Beta users groups in different countries and regions to make sure that when we try new features, we get users’ feedback.
We do AI testing and analysis apart from human feedback. We don’t believe that we have to impose our vision on the world. We have a different vision from country to country.
We try to bring Nepali users’ app closer to them and are filled with local partners, and local contacts. We don’t want to impose our culture on the whole world. We try to bring what the users of different countries need. We try to adjust our product locally.
What’s next for Viber Lens? Is it happening also in video calls?
In the first phase, Viber Lenses have images, videos and gifs. Gradually, we will have video calls, and stories section in the product pipeline, where users can post those videos to friends and others. It’s a continuous journey.
Similarly, we too have Instant Augmented Reality, which overlays images on top of surroundings and harness the power of AR at one’s fingertips.
Likewise, we have also Attention-Grabbing Filters that will add a creative layer to the visuals and spark conversations with friends.
Meanwhile, other features also include Expressive Masks from where a user can select from a variety of masks that accurately follow users’ facial movements.
There are beautification features that enhance images with realistic touches like lipstick, blush and a variety of hair colors; and Customized Bitmoji to integrate personalized Bitmoji characters into photos and videos.
How can Nepal’s business sector and partners get privilege from Viber Lenses?
Users can soon create lenses, which can also be created by businesses. We intend to offer the local brands to create Lenses and make them available freely for the users. It is an offer.
Our team in Nepal is discussing with different local brands to offer facilities to create the Lenses. Not only local brands, but we have also been focusing on celebrities, people’s intention to create a sort of personal relationship with users, among others.
How do you see the Nepali market?
Nepal is a country where we have a trustful relationship with users. It is improving every year. We grew by over 26% last year.
We are happy and proud to witness the significant growth of Viber in Nepal. We are investing in more and more local partnerships. We have talked about the partnership such as with eSewa. With eSewa we are offering to send money.
We also have some collaboration with some local e-Commerce companies like Daraz. We also have a partnership with local health authorities, especially for COVID-19 news dissemination. We also had a partnership with the Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FNCCI).
Similarly, we also have some cooperation with local artists like Swoopnal Suman. All these strategies of local partnership are to bring our users in Nepal to fit in daily lives. We want our app to look like it is for them and local businesses.
We have very strong penetration in Nepal. Our ambition is very simple in Nepal to convince 100% of adults residing there and the senior team to use Viber. We are working to convince people above 16 years of age to use Viber as their major communication platform.
It is the combination of penetration, security and contact capabilities, usability, and features that people need for their daily lives.
What is your global plan at the moment?
We want to see the continuous growth of users, and our objective is to provide more value to our users. Viber is not just for communication, it is about giving our users more vision to use this platform and save their time in their daily needs such as businesses, among others. We aim to reach 99% of the population. We will continue to launch new features as well.
Do you have anything to share with the Nepali users?
Thank you for trusting us, being such users, for being our great partners. We have a good relationship with the users in Nepal. We will do our best to meet the users’ expectations.