ICON and LINE PLUS, a global social platform with over 200 million monthly average users (MAU) worldwide, has co-founded ‘Unchain’ to build LINE’s blockchain network. Unchain aims to develop various DApp services while building synergies with ICON to expand the blockchain ecosystem.
Until now, every partnership announcement from ICON has only involved theloop (ICON’s parent company) building private purpose-specific blockchains for various institutions. While we have good reason to believe that private solutions developed by theloop will eventually use ICON’s blockchain for interoperability if needed, this is merely speculation. Thus, today’s joint venture announcement with LINE is groundbreaking. It’s the first time a large corporation has committed to using the actual ICON blockchain, and not just a private solution developed by theloop.
H.K. Lee, technical director at ICON, has been appointed as CEO of Unchain. H.K. Lee currently develops and reviews DApp teams looking to collaborate with ICON. He has garnered deep knowledge and experience of both blockchain technology and artificial intelligence through his work.
This joint venture is much more than a typical partnership. The appointment of H.K. Lee as CEO of Unchain confirms there will be a high level of collaboration between ICON and LINE.
Unchain will create a blockchain ecosystem fueled by a token economy, where the users are rewarded for their contributions to the network. DApp services discovered through ICON and Unblock, a subsidiary of LINE dedicated to blockchain research and to accelerate DApp projects, will be integrated with Unchain. This joint venture takes blockchain and decentralization another step closer to being a part of our everyday lives.
To clarify, ICON is an interoperability-focused blockchain platform that allows for DApp development. Unblock is LINE’s blockchain research subsidiary. ICON and Unblock will both brainstorm DApp projects that could be beneficial to LINE’s social ecosystem. The integration development will be done by Unchain, which is headed by ICON’s technical director.
What is LINE?
LINE is one of the world’s most popular social apps, especially in the Asian market. LINE is operated by LINE Corporation, a Japanese subsidiary of South Korea’s Internet giant, Naver. Think of Naver as Korea’s Google.
LINE’s Market Share
LINE currently has over 200 million monthly average users, and is the social platform of choice in Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia. I currently live in Tokyo, Japan, and can confirm this is definitely the case. LINE is the only app I use to keep in touch with my friends here. Not Facebook, not WhatsApp, not WeChat.
In addition to messaging, LINE also offers several social services to its users — LINE Pay, LINE Taxi, LINE Delima, LINE Points, and more.
Think of LINE Pay as Apple Pay, Venmo, and Splitwise combined into one app. It allows users to pay merchants, send money to each other, and split bills. For users who prefer physical payment cards, LINE also offers a LINE Pay Card via Japanese credit card company JCB. The card is linked to users’ LINE account, and offers rewards in the form of LINE Points.
Earlier this year, Bloomberg reported that LINE Corporation is “working to integrate cryptocurrencies into its messaging platform”. Now that we know LINE has committed to using ICON’s blockchain, we can speculate that ICX and its upcoming DEX platform may be used for liquidity between fiat (JPY, KRW, etc.) and LINE’s yet-to-be-announced crypto token.
I personally think LINEcoin (LNX) sounds cool.
LINE Points is the platform’s “reward and incentive token”, and can be earned by completing tasks on the LINE ecosystem. LINE Points can be redeemed by participating in LINE events or using the LINE Pay Card. LINE points can be converted to Lawson (a Japanese convenience store) Ponta points, Seven Eleven Nanaco points, Amazon gift cards, and more.
In it’s current form, LINE Points already offers an incentive-based reward system to users who participate on the network. I wouldn’t be surprised to see LINE Points rebranded as “LINEcoin” in the future, with the purpose of functioning as a platform token for LINE’s upcoming blockchain ecosystem.
LINE Taxi is a service that allows users to call taxis in over 90 cities in Japan. Bloomberg reported that Uber has less 1% of market share in Tokyo, Japan, which happens to be the world’s largest cab market. Part of Uber’s difficulty in the Japanese market is due to local taxi operators like Nihon Kotsu Co. (Tokyo’s largest cab company) releasing their own apps.
Interestingly enough, LINE Corporation has a confirmed partnership with Nihon Kotsu Co. giving users “access to approximately 3,340 cabs throughout the Tokyo area for the initial release”. LINE is planning to “increase cab availability by capitalizing on the nearly 23,000 taxis owned by Nihon Kotsu’s network of 129 partners as it expands to attain the industry’s largest taxi pool” in the future. With over 50 million LINE users in Japan, it’s no wonder why the nation’s largest taxi company has chosen to partner with LINE instead of an overseas solution with minimal Japanese adoption like Uber.
It’s important to know the LINE Pay is the only payment method accepted on LINE Taxi. If we do see a LINEcoin in the future, it could be used as both a payment method for LINE Taxi and also as a reward incentive for users to use LINE Taxi to call taxis. On many blockchain platforms, rewards are correlated with a user’s activity on the platform. Thus, it’s possible that a theoretical LINE Taxi DApp incentive system could be tied to the user’s contributions to other DApps on the network. Secondly, Japan’s taxi industry is worth approximately $15 billion, and LINE Taxi’s respective transaction volume could theoretically be leveraged as a liquidity source for LINE’s crypto token on its parent blockchain — probably ICX on ICON.
After launching a successful mobile delivery platform in Thailand, LINE launched Delima in Japan, a food delivery service connecting users to over 14,000 restaurants around the country. In September 2017, it was reported that Delima gained over 1.5 million users in the first 50 days after its launch. Similar to LINE Taxi, Delima accepts LINE Pay as a payment method and rewards users with LINE Points.
Advertising accounted for approximately 44% of LINE’s revenue in 2017. By using the LINE Points system, advertisers can reward users for completing certain tasks. Here’s an example graphic from LINE’s advertising guide.
For example, an advertiser like Coca Cola can instruct a user to download its official app, add Coca Cola as a friend on LINE, watch a video about a new drink, and then complete some sort of scavenger hunt in the physical world, in exchange for LINE Points.
There are quite a few blockchain projects in the advertising include AdEx, Basic Attention Token, and most recently Blue Whale on the ICON platform. This section of Blue Whale’s white paper recently caught my attention.
Big Data & Machine Learning Solution. The decentralized network, based on the same SaaS architecture as the Blue Whale’s Booking Software, is the optimal solution for collecting data. Data collected in this manner will be saved to the database in real time.
The saved user data will be tagged according the type of goods/services purchased through the Booking Software. The tagged and categorized data will then be used to train the Machine Learning algorithm for two different uses.
Using visitors’ data to aggregate and create a predictive list of potential future purchases.
Analyze target visitor’s purchase data to find lookalike visitors.
I think LINE could also implement some sort of machine learning into its own advertising tools. By leveraging user data stored on the blockchain, this advertising platform could take into a user’s activities on other LINE services to create extremely targeted advertising funnels and flows that appeal to the user’s interests and lifestyle. On the advertiser side, data generated from analysis of user behavior could be used to optimize ad spend.
LINE in Popular Culture
Lastly, I want to mention LINE’s brand image. The ecosystem has a number of recurring characters called LINE Friends, whom have manifested themselves into global business opportunities in the physical world — stores, cafes, media content, character goods, character licensing, and more.
In the digital world, LINE Friends come in the form of LINE Stickers within the messaging app. While the app comes with a selection of stock stickers, users can also purchase new stickers with LINE Points. You may think this whole concept is silly, but LINE actually made over $268 million in 2016 from selling digital stickers.
In a blockchain environment, this model can be thought of as “asset tokenization”, and is similar to what Cryptokitties has managed to achieve. Imagine a blockchain-based marketplace that allows P2P exchange of tokenized stickers of varying degrees of rarity. Stickers could be exchanged for LINEcoin or other assets in the LINE ecosystem (perhaps a ticket to a sold-out LINE event), and the value of all these digital assets (denominated in LINEcoin) could be determined by live market dynamics calculated by user data recorded on the blockchain. I think this model could actually be fairly successful in the Japanese market where people love the concept of seasonality and “limited edition things”.
No matter how you look at it, this joint venture between ICON and LINE is groundbreaking. As far as I know, it’s the only partnership between an Internet giant and a blockchain platform that has been publicly disclosed.
Over the next few years, I expect to see a few of LINE’s current services transition into DApps on the ICON platform governed by AI-enabled smart contracts (DaVinci, Korea’s leading artificial intelligence and machine learning platform is made by the same people who created ICON) with “LINEcoin” acting as fuel for the network, a user-incentive token, and a liquidity source for ICON’s DEX.
Update (May 17, 2018) — In an interview with Joseph Young from CCN, the ICON team stated that “the joint venture between ICON and LINE could lead to hundreds of millions of users of LINE potentially utilizing the ICON blockchain on a daily basis to access dApps.”