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May 14, 2014

This Messaging App Will Self-Destruct: Yahoo Buys Blink


The idea of the self-destructing instant message has been a welcome one for privacy-concerned users, and with good reason. The idea that a message could be sent, exist for a while, and then completely fade away as though it had never been was the stuff that dreams were made of for some privacy-concerned users, and messaging apps like Blink offered just that. Blink users, though, got something of a shock recently as word emerged that Blink had been bought out...by Yahoo.

The terms of the deal in question weren't actually announced, and reports suggest that the seven people behind Blink are now Yahoo employees, including the company's founders, Michelle Norgan and former Google member Kevin Stephens. Blink was originally a creation of Meh Labs, who started out working on a location-based service known as Kismet. While Kismet got some ground under it thanks to a good showing at SXSW 2012, it didn't get much ground afterward, so the Meh Labs team instead looked to the mobile messaging system, and how to improve privacy therein. That was the ground from which Blink emerged, and with good results.

Blink not only offered the ability to share several different kinds of messages, from photos to voice messages, but also the ability to set the visibility of said messages with a timer, which meant that once the message was viewed, it had a shelf life. Once the timer expired, the message became unreadable in the grandest “Mission: Impossible” style, though perhaps not quite so violently. It started out on iOS, and reportedly garnered around 100,000 downloads before making the jump to Android.

While half of its user base was said to be in the United States, it also counted a substantial portion of its users in the Middle East, sufficiently so in fact the region became Blink's second largest market. Indeed, Blink had plans to localize its app into Arabic, and even had plans to bring out some features that would make it particularly useful in the business market. But this isn't going to happen now, as Meh Labs now works for Yahoo, a move that isn't exactly being well-received. Meh Labs' investors are reportedly “pretty happy” with how it turned out, and Yahoo's investors are, according to reports, increasingly unsure about the overall value of the plans to buy businesses for new employees.

It's a bit of a puzzle altogether. We know that the mobile messaging space has a lot of competitors these days, and Yahoo IM is just one of these. Places like Snapchat, Frankly, and Confide also have a stake in the market, something that Yahoo IM is likely going to have a tough time competing against. If Yahoo had bought Blink to bring its technology into Yahoo IM, that would make some sense. Yahoo IM messages that disappeared for good at some point could have given the company a little extra edge in a very hotly contested market. But that doesn't seem to be the case, and though Blink certainly had some winners under its banner—Kevin Stephens wasn't just at Google but also Boxee and Apple—the idea that maybe it wasn't worth buying an entire company to get these seven people is a point to consider.

Only time will tell just how it all works out, and Yahoo may have a bigger plan here than is immediately realized. But Yahoo may need to make its case a little clearer to keep wary investors on hand for future developments.




Edited by Maurice Nagle

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