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Kik rides teen interest to 100M users

Kids love Kik because they don't have to give out their phone number, CEO and founder Ted Livingston tells CNET.

Kik app on iOS 7
The Kik app on iOS 7.

The company behind the mobile messaging app Kik announced Thursday that it now has more than 100 million registered users, which is more than triple the number it had just one year ago. The app is signing on as many as 250,000 new people each day, CEO Ted Livingston told CNET.

Launched in 2010, Kik makes a messaging application for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone -- and BlackBerry unofficially. It was the BlackBerry app that initially helped Kik get off the ground in the early days. But after a legal tumble with BlackBerry, the Ontario-based company decided to focus exclusively on the friendlier smartphone platforms. It attributes its recent growth spurt to teenage demand in the United States.

"Fifty percent of our users are in the US," Livingston said. "Kik is actually getting more downloads than WhatsApp in the US now," he added, referencing numbers published in November by app analytics firm Distimo.

Youth in the Western world are gravitating to his app over competing ones because these kids already have messaging plans that come with unlimited SMS or they own iPod Touches. And Kik, unlike WhatsApp, allows them to chat without a phone number.

"With Kik you sign up with a user name, not a phone number," he said. "For the mass market, the user name is worse because it's more complicated than a phone number...but where the user name is really good is if you don't have a phone number or you don't want to give out your phone number."

Specifically, young people are exchanging their Kik names on Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter to chat with new people. "That's where everybody uses Kik," Livingston said.

Kik app on iOS 7
Kik on iOS 7. Kik

Building a better version of SMS continues to be Kik's primary mission, though that hardly differentiates it from a slew of competing apps with equally impressive audiences including WhatsApp, Line, and Kakao.

To stand out, Livingston's company has opened the messaging platform to third-party developers who want to build their applications inside Kik through a feature called "Cards." With Cards, Kik users can play games, doodle, share music, or send their location through Foursquare.

The power of the platform approach is evidenced in Costume Party, an addictive game where Kik contacts doodle on pictures and then attempt to guess what's pictured. Released four weeks ago, Costume Party already has around 4 million people playing the app-within-an-app.

"In terms of having a conversation in mobile, increasingly everybody is texting, and so it's clearly the killer app of the era," Livingston said. "If you have the killer app, you can be the company that leverages that to be the killer platform."

So far, so good -- though with the seemingly overnight comeuppance of messaging apps, Kik's content extras hardly seem like the final piece to the messaging puzzle.

Still, there's this: Livingston believes his is only the second company in Canada's history to reach the 100 million-member milestone. Ironically, or fittingly, the other company is none other than BlackBerry, the beleaguered smartphone maker that previously employed Livingston, makes BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), and filed suit against Kik for patent infringement in 2010. The parties settled for an undisclosed sum in September of this year.

The Kik team poses for a photo in the snow. CEO Ted Livingston is pictured in the back row in the orange coat. Kik