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Letting the chat out of the bag

Letting the chat out of the bag

EBuddy sees Saudi and Egypt as main growth engines in the region

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June 1, 2011 3:35 by



At a time when MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger were the hottest things on the Internet, there was another platform that flourished: Web messengers. When schools prevented students from installing MSN Messenger on lab and library computers, or when workplaces blocked employees’ access to it, people often used sites such as Webmsessenger.msn.com and eBuddy.com to chat on their MSN accounts through the Web.

At least that is how I remember eBuddy.

EBuddy is a website, launched in 2003 (as e-Messenger), that aggregates instant messaging (IM) platforms, and is available in Web and mobile format. It started off aggregating chat platforms such as  MSN Messenger (now Windows Live Messenger) and Yahoo Messenger, and over the years, as more IM platforms became available, it added the likes of Facebook and Google Talk to the list. It allows users to access those programs and chat with their “buddies” online; users can also chat across platforms by creating a single contact list with friends on different IM and social networking accounts. EBuddy also allows advertisers to present users with display ads.
According to Rogier van den Heuvel, the service’s chief commercial officer, eBuddy’s target audience is between 13 and 24 years old, and this group accounts for around 70 to 80 percent of its total users.

EBuddy saw a lot of activity during the recent uprisings that took place in the Middle East and North Africa. “The best example I can give is in Syria,” says van den Heuvel. “They closed Facebook and another messenger, and then some people posted on Twitter: Don’t worry, you can still use eBuddy. It was at the end of December and we saw a huge uptake in our traffic and usage. People were putting on Twitter and other social media that you can still use eBuddy, although Facebook was shut down and everything.” Within two days, eBuddy was also blocked.
The service came back on a few weeks later, says van den Heuvel. “It was the same story in Egypt. From one day to the other all our users were gone. But now they are back again. I think it was for about a week or so that people couldn’t use it.”

FORGET ME NOT. EBuddy, which has its headquarters in Amsterdam and offices in London, San Franciso, Minsk and recently in Singapore, may open an office in the Middle East before the end of 2011. Emerging markets such as Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia are becoming an important area for eBuddy, says van den Heuvel. “If Singapore and Latin America are successful and we continue growing in the MENA region, we will also consider opening an office in the region. Most probably this would be in Dubai because we see this as the hub to this region. The office will, of course, focus on advertising sales on one hand and look after partnerships with operators (like Vodafone, Etisalat, du) and handset vendors (Nokia, Samsung, HTC, LG) on the other.”

EBuddy has around 15 million users on the Web and 19 million users on mobile around the world, says van den Heuvel.

“Our biggest growth figures [in mobile] are in emerging markets: Latin America, the Middle East and Asia. It is particularly big in Asia, but also in Latin America. You see in emerging markets that people normally don’t have broadband connections, they don’t have PCs; so they skip the whole infrastructure and go directly to their mobile.”

In the MENA region, eBuddy has about 1 million unique users a month on the Web, and almost 3 million unique users a month for mobile, says van den Heuvel. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE are the most important markets in MENA for eBuddy, especially when it comes to advertising, he says. “Saudi Arabia is important because it is a big country, and it is a wealthy country. Egypt is also big. And the UAE is not so big, but all the media agencies are based in Dubai and [from there] they concentrate on the [whole] region. So it is very normal that if [advertisers] have a campaign, they include Dubai in there. If you look at the budgets and, of course, reach, Egypt and Saudi are the most important markets in the Middle East because they are the biggest countries and they have the most money to spend.”



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