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Kakao Talk unveils features to get instant messages from K-pop

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Kakao Talk, South Korea's fastest-growing mobile messenger service, introduced new features on Wednesday that allow handset users to receive real-time messages from K-pop stars, companies and local merchants.

Its operator Kakao Corp. also added features that enable users to play mobile games with friends on Kakao Talk. Companies will also be able to send discount coupons or promotional tips to users who have added them as friends.

"While Plus Friend is for corporations and brands, Kakao Link 2.0 is for application developers," said Jaebum Lee, the five-year-old firm's chief executive officer.

The latest features, if they garner enough support from corporate customers and entertainment celebrities, could pose challenges to Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc., which already offer similar services to a much larger and more international audience. 

Kakao Talk, which had 25 million users as of September and forecast that number would hit 30 million before year's end, said it aims to become a global platform for social networking, online commerce, mobile games and corporate marketing, as are Facebook and Twitter.

The young messenger service operator has created a huge buzz in South Korea's mobile market in recent years thanks to its popularity and also due to a privacy flop that spawned a backlash.

The firm's chief said its service will differ from that of Facebook and Twitter because of its focus on mobility and on users' choice.

"Amid the flux of data, it was difficult to sort through the information people need. That is the PC (personal computer) way of getting information," the CEO said. "But during the mobile era, people can find the information they need at the place they designated during the time they choose to."

Kakao Talk partnered with 21 retailers, magazine publishers, broadcasters, food companies, game developers and popular K-pop singers for the launch.

Retailers can send mobile coupons, broadcasters can send real-time news and K-pop singers can send videos of their concerts, similar to the way Twitter users follow celebrities to get instant updates of the messages sent by world stars. Facebook has also been courting corporations to use its service to offer personalized marketing for users.

Kakao also hinted that it aims to take on giant online discount coupon sites like Groupon Inc. Its CEO said Kakao's mobile coupons could be a better means for local brick-and-mortar shops to promote their products to mobile users.

The mobile messenger, which is available for iOS devices and Android handsets and soon to be available for BlackBerry users, declined to disclose its profit outlook.

The service could also create more tensions between the mobile service and mobile carriers, which have expressed complaints on data-guzzling Kakao Talk users.



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