Superapps: The future of Social Media? Podcast Transcript
The Bright Team
The Bright Team • Nov 15

Superapps: The future of Social Media? Podcast Transcript

Breaking the Feed, Social Media: Beyond the Headlines

Already popular in many areas around the world, are Super Apps coming to a phone near you? We look at some of the existing Super App offerings, explore some of the advantages and disadvantages (including what it could mean for social media), and think about who might be most likely to build one with widespread appeal in the West and what it might look like.

Taryn Ward  Hi. I'm Taryn Ward,

Steven Jones  and I'm Steven Jones,

Join the Waitlist

TW.  and this is Breaking the Feed, Social Media: Beyond the Headlines. 

SJ.  We're taking a closer look at the core issues around social media, including the rise and fall of social media empires, to better understand the role social media plays in our everyday lives and society.

TW.  Last time, we began our look at new social media offerings with a discussion of TikTok. Today, we'll continue with a closer look at Super apps will define super apps as a concept and talk through some existing examples that are already popular in Asia, Africa and Central America. Our main question for this episode is whether super apps are the future of social media and what that might mean for how we connect online. Sometimes, super apps are compared fairly, I think, to Swiss Army knives. The the Swiss Army knife of apps combines multiple services in one platform. Social networking is an example. But often it's social networking, ecommerce, banking, messaging, food delivery, transportation, and the idea is that users can add and remove features as it suits them, and basically, these features function is Mini Apps. See, Toby, how many social apps do you have on your phone right now? 

SJ.  Well, I would guess between 10 and 15, which is more than the global average, which is about eight to nine, I think, but varies between countries. But then we are building a social network, and we make this podcast. But if I actually count, then it turns out that actually, I have 30 social network apps, three social exercise apps, and a few commercial apps that are largely crowd-sourced or essentially social apps that sort of sell things, and that, frankly, was a bit of surprise, even though as I said, just a second ago, we are building a social network, and we make this podcast, and therefore I should expect to have more social networks. It's a lot, right? 

TW.  Yeah, and the same is true. You know, I've spoken to quite a few people about this since we started talking about doing an episode on this, and it's interesting because everybody thinks they have fewer than they actually do. But when you start to add up: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, and then also things like LinkedIn, YouTube, WhatsApp, Signal, Confide Telegram, Facebook Messenger, Pinterest, Discord, and maybe even some of the new options BeReal, Retro, Threads, Post, Co-Host, or apps that have a social component, but aren't primarily social, it really starts to add up, and if I think about shopping apps, and banking apps, and food delivery apps, and all these things, it really starts to add up, and it can be a lot looking at, you know, looking at your phone and having to navigate in and out of these different apps, and so one way that I think about Super Apps is to compare them to shopping in person. So you know, if I want to go out and buy food, I could go to several different speciality stores, a bakery, a butcher fishmonger, or go to a single large grocery store where you can buy, you know, various food items and related products all in one place, or retail, where you know, you could go to an individual shop that sells one thing, hats, or shoes, or whatever it is. Or you can go to a large department store that has, you know, a little bit of everything, they maybe don't have the variety, you maybe don't have the same level of customer service. But I would say that one way to think about this is, you know, Swiss Army Knife is fine, but also, Super Apps are sort of like the large department stores of the social media world.

SJ.  Yeah, that's pretty interesting, right? I mean, I remember as a kid, you know, going shopping with my mom in, in the city centre, my mom and my sister to be fair, and going to the large department stores at the time, which were like can Debenhams or Dingles, which were the house of Fraser, whatever, right? different stores in different towns in England. You know, as an adult, in particularly in Canada, going to shopping malls, these vast, sprawling networks of different stores, and even there, there would be, you know, in each corner or points of a triangle in the shopping mall, that would be one major department store and candidates very often the Hudson's Bay Company and and used to be Cirrus and possibly one or other large American company, and I assume that was your experience to growing up and since moving here? 

TW.  Yes,  very much, and there's a lot to recommend that way of shopping. There's, you know, a lot of different choices, and there are places to hang out, and I spent a lot of time in my younger years at at shopping malls, whether because I wanted to be there or because I had to be there. But you know, if we think about some of the advantages and disadvantages to shopping that way. I think the same ideas apply to super apps, and I think sometimes we sort of dive into saying this and then think about the consequences later, and I imagine My parents and grandparents would have a lot to say about how department stores in that kind of shopping changed their experience, for better and for worse. But, you know, I think it's undeniable that there are efficiency advantages, right? So you can go to one place and get everything. But likewise, the challenges are there, too. So, you know, how often do we go and end up buying things we don't need? Or having a lower-quality experience overall? 

SJ.  Yeah, I mean, there's a standard line interaction, which happens whenever I go to Costco, which is the cashier because she has to says, Did you find everything you need? And I routinely say yes, and quite a few things that I didn't want when I came in, and that is, of course, a large part of the of the business model and the other problem, particularly with, with shopping malls, but it also department stores, is, wherever you are in the country, you'll walk in and find exactly the same things. The exactly the same stores carrying exactly the same brands, and so everything becomes the same images very efficient. You're right, you go to one place, you park once, and you just shop, but you don't find anything. You don't find many things which are interesting and delightful in those big places. I think they I mean, that's my feeling anyway, what do you think?

TW.  I think that's true, I think I think that's true, and I think the same dangers in different forms come with super apps. So I think this idea that maybe you'll end up buying things you didn't really want or need, because of the way the ads are placed, which can happen on any social media network. But if we're spending more time on this because it fulfils multiple functions, there's a risk that we'll end up, you know, buying more stuff we don't need. But there's also a risk that we'll end up spending more time than we really intended to spend on these apps, and we've seen, you know, particularly in young people, that this has been a really big problem, and we know that these are, these are potential problems, because although super abs, for most people listening to this, are sort of a new concept. In Asia, Africa and Central America, they're popular already. So we can look at, you know, some of these some of these issues and how they have played out. WeChat is a great example. So there are over a billion active monthly users, the number is something like 1.25. But that's changing all the time, and you know, WeChat, just a little bit of information, if you're not familiar, it launched in 2011 by Tencent, and it has lots of different functionalities. But But basically, users can text, access city services, pay utilities, send peer to peer payments, stream videos, you know, all these things, and you can see why even without having it in your hands, it would mean that you spend a lot of time on it. 

SJ.  Of course, that's part of the point, isn't it, that it becomes the gateway to the world that they want you to spend lots of time on it. Because that way, they're making a little bit of money from all those transactions, whether you're looking at adverts or whether you're paying a bill, you know, none of those things one has to imagine happens entirely for free. So yeah, it's a great, it's a great business model. But for people and we already spend, let's face it too much time online, we talked about TikTok and young people spending 24 hours a month as an average. This would be a lot, wouldn't it?

TW.  Yes, and it already is. But But one question, I think worth asking, you know, not to not to torture, the shopping mall metaphor. But given how much people love shopping malls in the West, why? Why haven't super asked taken off in North America and Europe, and I think, you know, one theory that that I think makes some sense is that users in Europe and the United States had early experiences online that were web based. So we've talked about AOL Instant Messenger, and G chat and early Facebook and all these things, and, you know, we we became really locked into these services. So companies resisted changing to Super Apps because it could harm user engagement, and you could risk people falling off and finding something better. While you know in, in some of these other places where we've seen super apps be really successful. These were users' first experiences online, and those first experiences were largely via smartphone anyway. So it was a much easier and smoother transition. 

SJ.  Yeah, and that makes complete sense, and it works better for the Super App because of course, you have the phone in your hand or in your pocket, or in your purse all the time. I mean, I don't think many of us are more than two feet away from an app on our phone at any point during the day. Right. So that wasn't true. For the for the computer or the laptop. You were frequently away from it, thank God. But I think the other point that you made, which is that it was a it would be a big change for those apps. It's really important. We've done a lot of market research talking about social media apps with people, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, And they their biggest complaints are the things which those companies changed most often so they could make more money keep your eyes on the screen for adverts, right the look the loss of chronology, the loss of seeing your friends, you know this the for you targeted stuff, which really is to keep your eyes on the screen and let them show you more ads. So that's those are the things which people most often complain about, and then, you know, in the back of their minds, they worry about privacy and security and Oh, my God, they should. But it's the experience that they bemoan most of the time. Mehta is not a non commercial, not for profit company, if it if it thought that he could make more money like this easily, you'd have to assume they would have made the jump at some point, wouldn't you? 

TW.  I would think so, yeah, and we are creatures of habit. I mean, I think we don't always like to think of ourselves that way or as creatures in general, but we like things to be a certain way, and we're resistant to change. I had a really interesting chat with a founder at Web Summit last year. Really, really interesting woman, I hope I you know, I hope she I haven't checked, but I hope I hope things are going well for her. So she was educated in raised in China, but she lives in New Europe now, and she was working to launch her own shopping based Super App in the West. So it would be a lot of Chinese products, but sort of Western facing and she was expressing some of her frustration at the lack of understanding Westerners broadly have about SuperApps and our lack of sophistication more generally, in terms of payment systems, you know, she was really amused at how obsessed we are with our credit and debit cards, because to her, that's all really old fashioned and silly, and she found it equally fascinating that we're all stuck using separate apps for everything and how inconvenient and strange that is.

SJ.  I think this is really interesting, isn't it? I mean, like she's not, she's not wrong, but her perspective is different. So she probably never grew up doing all these things by hand, you know, walking from the bank to the shop, to the post office to wherever like this, this the sort of like shopping routines that people had, I remember my, my grandma mom going shopping and doing all these errands or, you know, sequentially. So for us actually, doing these things by our firm B will make payments, be able to deposit checks as is, you know, it's awesome, that's actually extremely convenient, you know, better take a picture of the front and back of a cheque and submit it to the bank, and suddenly the money appears in your account, and you can pay your bills without leaving your bath. Well, maybe not bath, if you're depositing checks them I get soggy wouldn't be good. But there is the other issue that I think we are perhaps a little bit more critical, as well in the West and somewhat less trusting of authority. Let's put it that way, or at least much more willing to be public about our critique of authority and power, and we've also had over the last 200 years or so a number of run-ins with, you know, monopolies of one kind or another, which makes us I think, both at the government level and the individual level, a bit more suspicious of companies that are trying to build a monopoly. Do you think? I

TW.  think so, and I think in some ways we have good reason to be because regulation just works differently. So you know, our government, all these issues we've seen play out on social media, our governments have demonstrated pretty clearly their inability or unwillingness to rein these things in, and so the idea, which we'll talk more about, you know, the trust issues later, but I think this idea that we're going to let one company monopolise our time and attention like this is, is really worrying. Before we do that, it might be worth saying just a little bit more about how super apps are used. Because we're sort of talking here, we're talking about all these potential problems and benefits, but most of us haven't used them. So, you know, I said before, they usually incorporate some combination of communication, media, finance, transportation, retail lifestyle into a single app. They don't all do all of these things, and some do some things really well, and some things not so well. So Ali pay is a good example. I'm pretty well known. Mobile payments, financial services, food delivery, ticket booking, ride, sharing, these are all things you can do in a single app. You don't have to use the app to do all of them. But there's an option there for you to do it. AirAsia is you know, it's an airline app. You can book hotels and food delivery, and you know, that's sort of an interesting thing, because you can see how all these things are related, and again, you don't have to use all the features in the Super App. But it's it's that option. There are some others worth mentioning. So there's one that started sort of like eBay, so consumer to consumer shopping, and now it's business to consumer to business with its own online payment systems, and you know, there are several others that have A messaging, payment, something else so they can function. My point really is that they can function in a lot of different ways and serve a lot of different needs. There's not one formula that says this is what a super app has to be. It really is just that it takes multiple boxes across different areas of service.

SJ.  That's convenient. But also, somebody knows an awful lot about what I'm trying to do, you know, so, at the moment, a lot of information is available about me, but a lot of is disseminated across a bunch of sources, right, and I'm one of those people who regularly deletes tracking cookies and refuses to let people track my activity on my phone, and so on and so forth. So, you know, one of these apps knows an awful lot about you how much money you have, or it can infer that how were you what you're eating, where you go, what time of day you like to eat? Gosh, I mean, there's an endless list of things they can use to characterise you and further manipulate you to spend more money.

TW.  And if you have if you're listening to this, and you have heard about Super apps before, you probably have Elon Musk to think. So most of the media coverage about Super Apps over the past few years has been in his direction because he's expressed, for quite a while now, in interest in turning Twitter, now "X" into a Super App, in his mind, at least publicly, this super app has always been called "X", and he's already made that first change, sort of I mean, the rebrand was a bit of a mess, as we've talked about, but you know that that first step to rename it, and he's expressed a lot of interest in this, the question remains with so many people leaving Twitter, would anyone want to use a Super App that started as Twitter?  

SJ.  From my perspective? Hell no, definitely, definitely not. Twitter was, I mean, we talked about Twitter previously, and, you know, I very firmly of the belief that it was good because it was good at one thing, which was immediate sharing of very pointed pieces of information is some of those pieces of information that I just had a bagel, we're not terribly insightful, but much of it was extremely important, and it contributed to the global conversation that was good at that, and, you know, I think the characters, as we discussed with characters changed, and I think that that was the detriment of the platform. But But why would you think that from a chat platform, you should build out this this massive network? And I mean, the answer, of course, is, I will know more about you, and I will make a lot more money because I will control, you know, a vast proportion of commerce and banking activity in the West. But that's, I can see the advantage for you. But I'm not sure that other than, you know, maybe missing a flick in a tap. That amount of inconvenience, for me, doesn't seem to be terribly bad, and I, frankly, even in 2021, I trust my bank and my banking app with my money more than I would trust Elon Musk and his, you know, non-public board of directors, and that's important to remember, this is not a publicly traded company, and therefore, they're under slightly different obligations for reporting, although not necessarily behaviour, but there's a lot less transparency, and I think that worries me quite a lot.

TW.  Yeah, I think that's that's certainly fair, and and it may not be Twitter that gets there first, I think certainly, you know, Amazon, Uber, these companies are also well placed. They're doing enough different things, they've sort of experimented with, you know, going various different directions. All that remains is really building one Super App structure that holds it all together. But, you know, some of our same concerns apply to these companies to their leadership is less colourful, certainly. But but some of those concerns carry over. Nevertheless, some experts predict that by 2027, more than half of the world's population will be daily users of super apps, which is huge. You know, we are nearing 2024. We get closer every day, and you know, right now, we're nowhere near that. So, you know, there would need to be some changes in terms of how many of us feel about Super Apps. That said, a 2022 consumer survey found that 72% of Americans would be interested in trying a Super App. Steve, I think we've sort of covered your thoughts on this, despite the, you know, 30-odd apps. 

SJ.  Yeah, 

TW.  And fair enough. I think it is worth talking through. Some of the benefits definitely don't want to be one-sided, and there are real benefits. So one, one argument in favour of super apps is that customer satisfaction would actually improve because it would be so convenient, and you can avoid app overload. Rather than having 50 apps on your phone, that do different things, you could maybe have three or four, and have everything stored there and be able to just click back and forth between those apps. Data sharing would allow more targeted preferences. We've already discussed that this is more of a benefit to the app than it is for you. But there are people who love their super targeted advertising, and they are willing to to sacrifice their privacy and other things, and we can feel however we feel about this and worried that they don't fully understand the risks. But but they genuinely, really, really appreciate this. Finally, the user base, so this is another really benefit for the platform. But you know, it's the potential to have a lot more users because you're sort of across different areas of service, I still think there are four major challenges that that we also need to address and consider, I think, first is the market dynamic, there has to be a need, or at least a want for this offering. You know, the survey of 72% of Americans indicates that there is some of that. But I would be interested to see whether that number has gone down in the last year or not. The second concern is about the difficulty in maintaining a consistent level of quality across these different offerings. So, in order for somebody to want to use your Super App for multiple things, you know, there has to be a benefit to that it has to be better than, you know, the individual apps that do the same thing or the convenience has to outweigh it, but it really has to be one or the other. There were some regulatory concerns. You know, we talked about data sharing GDPR. But we also have some antitrust concerns here. So the United States Federal Trade Commission, or the FTC, is a force to be reckoned with, and I mean that in the best possible way, like, more power to them all the credit in the world, and that's a that's a significant barrier, and in one that WeChat didn't face. So regulation was on the side of super apps like WeChat, and in fact, it shielded the app from international competition in many ways, super apps in other jurisdictions are likely to have a very different experience. So it, you know, we'll we'll see how that plays out. The final challenge, though, I think, is the one that we're the farthest from being able to clear, and that's the trust issue, in order for people to want to use a SuAer app, they have to have some basic level of trust, and we just don't seem to have that. 

SJ.  No, I mean, you know, obviously, I've given the impression, I hope over the last 20 minutes that I'm somewhat sceptical of their ability, or willingness or even interest in protecting my data, and my general well-being, and I think that's the difference, you know, I think, my relationship with my bank through my banking app, I know that they have a commercial and you know, public relations interest in protecting my data and their relationship with the because when it goes wrong, it can go terribly, terribly long, and generally, they're pretty good at it. We know from recent public experience, that the large social media networks have been quite lacks, and in some cases, possibly negligent with our data. Certainly, some of the regulators think so and that if they did have that amount of data on you, then that's also a problem. I also think the knock-on effect of some of these apps has been quite bad. You know, Uber is extraordinarily convenient. That's a lot of controversy, by the way, they treat its drivers and zero-hours contracts in the UK, which are often used to drive the cost-effectiveness, effectiveness of some of the conveniences that we benefit from here are controversial as well, or they don't necessarily good for the people who work onto them. So I think there's a rising consciousness in the West, particularly that that, you know, there is a broader picture that needs to be considered, and, and, and at least I hope that's the case. I mean, I'm far from a conspiracy theorist, but I don't really trust these apps, and they have not done anything, but we will change my mind, you know, over the last 10 years, so it'll be interesting. I guess that does sort of open the door for somebody else to come in. 

TW.  It does. I mean, I agree with all of that. But I still think that rather than watching for a challenger coming out of the blue, our best bet is to watch for an existing big tech operator to try this first. We talked about Amazon and Uber, Spotify. I think Spotify could be well placed you know, they're already doing music. They can podcasts and audiobooks and video, people really like Spotify and they don't have some of the obvious trust issues. Snapchat, which, to be clear, nobody should trust to do anything. They already do movie bookings, games flashcards, they have a meditation tool, you know, and they are ambitious, they have demonstrated that again and again, and then of course, there's Meta, you can never count Meta out fully, even as we've talked about how men is really on the on the decline in many ways. They have Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, they've been experimenting with some banking features, in some places, and you know, this is worrying for the same reasons Snapchat is worrying really?

SJ.  Yeah, I think that's true, and Facebook, of course, he's already in the marketplace, because he has marketplace. People sell things you just put it adds up, and I know, you know, some people quite close to me, and I'm at home, are really addicted to spying and selling things on Marketplace. Because it is so convenient. You take a picture, you put it up. So yeah, I think you can't ever, and let's be honest, this was a major driver for Mark Zuckerberg is interested in the metaverse and getting people online all the time because he would be in complete control of all the digital things you see, during the entirety of your day, and the whole thing becomes a marketplace and an opportunity to go banking. You see the bank as you walk along your Virtual High Street, and you just go in and do your transaction. But it's, you know, I'm not sorry that that hasn't worked out quite that the way he wanted. But I do agree that the Amazon is already such a major corporation right there in everything, people trust them already to buy things, despite some of the negative press and, you know, the push to buy locally, it's extraordinarily effective Amazon packages arrive at my house in your house on a regular basis, that that gives them a really good position. But you do have to wonder, you know, now with the FTC sort of case against Amazon, you know, whether governments, particularly the US and EU, are going to really look much more carefully at the business practices of these big companies and actually try to, you know, rein them in. If they do, then maybe this would slow progress down. But they have let's face it all the money in the world to pursue these things if they want to.

TW.  And with experts predicting both it's super apps are inevitable, and that the first $10 trillion tech company will be a super app. I think the concept is here to stay, and we're likely to see more of this in the West. I do think though, you know, the conventional wisdom is something like consumers in the West at least will always choose convenience, over privacy, over security over their own mental health over the mental health of their children. But if that were true, I would think that maybe we would already have seen a $10 trillion Super App in the West. Maybe that's naive and hopeful and unreasonably optimistic. But trust matters, and Western social media companies don't have it. So I think Amazon Spotify, you know, a company like that, is probably better placed as you said, and might be slightly less worrying. Next time, we'll look at copycat socials, and focus specifically on what are sometimes called the new Twitter's, or new social media networks designed to replace or be a meaningful alternative to Twitter. In the meantime, we'll post a transcript of this episode with references on our website. You can find this and more about us at

SJ.  Until next time, I'm Steven Jones,

TW.  and I'm Taryn Ward,

 SJ.  Thank you for joining us for breaking the feed social media beyond the headlines.

Join the Conversation

Join the waitlist to share your thoughts and join the conversation.

Brock Melvin
Sue Gutierrez
Adrian Faiers
Mike Perez Perez
chris dickens
The Bright Team
The Bright Team

Two lawyers, two doctors, and an army officer walk into a Zoom meeting and make Bright the best digital social community in the world. The team’s education and diversity of experience have given us the tools to confront some of the toughest tech and social problems.

Join the Waitlist

Join the waitlist today and help us build something extraordinary.