Less than four years after Line’s launch, the company says that more than 560 million people worldwide have registered as members, the majority of them in Japan, Taiwan, and Thailand. One hundred eighty one million users log in to the Line app each month. While that’s a smaller user base than WhatsApp (700 million monthly active users according to research firm Canalys), Facebook Messenger (500 million), and Tencent’s WeChat (480 million), Line has done a remarkable job of turning its popularity into a growing, diversified business. ... Its reported revenue of $656 million in 2014 comes from a range of sources that few rivals can match: It sells games that can be played solo or with other Line users; those digital stickers, which can be purchased to express a dizzying array of emotions; marketing deals with brands and celebrities that want to reach its user base; and merchandise such as the products at the Harajuku shop. ... Spy on other passengers in the Tokyo subway, and there’s a more-than-decent chance that you’ll spot a salaryman or schoolgirl interacting on their smartphone with Brown, Cony, or one of the app’s other hyperlovable mascots. Visit a restaurant and a small placard at the cashier invites you to follow the business on Line in return for discounts. On billboards, the characters endorse chewing gum. Visit an electronics store and you’ll find them in plush form, as prizes in a coin-operated crane game. ... "The turning point," Idezawa says, "was when we released stickers." ... The Japanese call cuteness kawaii, and find it surprisingly meaningful. "The word ‘kawaii’ in Japanese literally means ‘acceptable of affection’ or even ‘possible to love,’" explains Kotaku’s Ashcraft, who says that it’s used to refer to everything from babies to dogs to clothing. Kawaii imagery is "used to soften things, making them more palatable and even more friendly. That's a reason why it's not uncommon to see cute characters in everything from public safety posters to home-loan brochures."
Twilio, as a company, reflects its chief executive’s personality. “Be humble and be frugal,” says Lawson, a 39-year-old father of two. That aw-shucks credo has translated into 30,000 customers—from small developers to large enterprises—who use Twilio to power some 75 billion annual connections that reach 1 billion devices. ... building communications functions into apps is both vital and easier than ever, which in turn prom-ises to make every smartphone in the world even smarter. ... Twilio is exceedingly simple to use and charges no upfront fees, so programmers often use it to test an idea or product. Pretty soon that product scales and turns into a six- or seven-figure account that required no traditional sales process. “We onboard developers like consumers and let them spend like enterprises,” Lawson says. Like others that have embraced developer-driven marketing—Amazon for computing services, Stripe for payments, New Relic for analytics—Twilio benefits as companies increasingly turn to software for differentiation. ... His 15 months at Amazon proved to be formative. Selling the building blocks of computing as a service was a brand-new idea, and Lawson was at its epicenter. The model gained traction with the advent of mobile apps, which over time prompted scores of businesses to turn to software as a way to interact with customers. As he began to think about where he could apply the Amazon Web Services model, Lawson homed in on communications, which had proved essential to every business he had started.
For years now, social media has been where people go to find out what’s happening during a crisis; even aid agencies and emergency managers have come to rely on hashtags and live video to form a picture of how an event is playing out on the ground. But the hail of updates can be rapid and incoherent. ... sometimes there’s no information coming out of a disaster zone—because the internet has gone down, as happened in large parts of New York and New Jersey when Hurricane Sandy landed in 2012. This is another fundamental problem that Facebook is, almost by coincidence, working to solve. For the past two and a half years, the company has been developing a program to deliver the internet via drone to parts of the world that don’t have it. The business reason for this fanciful-sounding project is pretty straightforward: It will speed up Facebook’s efforts to expand globally and serve ads to even more people in what is already the world’s largest audience. But the team has always had the idea that the same technology could be vitally important in, say, an earthquake zone. ... This new incarnation of Safety Check begins with an algorithm that monitors an emergency newswire—a third-party program that aggregates information directly from police departments, weather services, and the like. Then another Safety Check algorithm begins looking for people in the area who are discussing the event on Facebook. If enough people are talking about the event, the system automatically sends those people messages inviting them to check in as safe—and asks them if they want to check the safety of other people as well.
Malhama Tactical isn’t an enormous military conglomerate like the infamous Blackwater (now named Academi). It consists of 10 well-trained fighters from Uzbekistan and the restive Muslim-majority republics of the Russian Caucasus. But size isn’t everything in military consulting, especially in the era of social media. Malhama promotes its battles across online platforms, and the relentless marketing has paid off: The outfit’s fighting prowess and training programs are renowned among jihadis in Syria and their admirers elsewhere. It helps that until now the group has specialized its services, focusing on overthrowing Bashar al-Assad’s regime and replacing it with a strict Islamic government. ... The group’s leader is a 24-year-old from Uzbekistan who goes by the name Abu Rofiq (an Arabic pseudonym that means father of Rofiq). Little is known about him other than that he cycles through personal social media accounts rapidly, using fake names and false information to throw off surveillance efforts. ... Since launching in May 2016, Malhama has grown to do brisk business in Syria, having been contracted to fight, and provide training and other battlefield consulting, alongside groups like the al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as the Nusra Front) and the Turkistan Islamic Party, a Uighur extremist group from China’s restive Xinjiang province.