Making Messaging Free on mCent

Jana’s motto is “Make the Internet free for the next billion.” We strive to achieve that goal by providing users with opportunities to offset their data costs while discovering useful apps for their Android phones. One way that we can further provide users with free access to data services is by providing our users with and reimbursing them for messaging, a feature they use every day on other platforms.

Our first version of free messaging notified users of the feature via a banner in the messaging tab.


The user would receive their compensation when they clicked the start button in the banner. The banner would disappear until the user had sent or received 5,000 messages; the banner would then reappear to indicate that they had used all their free messages. We hoped that this simple design would make it clear to our users that they were being reimbursed for their messaging data costs without adding too much noise to the messaging UI.

However, when we actually spoke to users we found that they did not understand how mCent made messaging free and how much data messages actually used. We know that 5,000 messages is about 1MB of data but users estimated over five times that much. Some users also thought that free messaging meant SMS was free. What we took from these interviews was that payments for messaging needed to be more closely tied to actually sending messages, so that the users could associate their mCent messages with reimbursement and feel that they were receiving adequate payment for all their messages.

For our second version of free messaging we knew we needed users be more aware of free messaging while they were using it, rather than just at the start and end. We decided to do this by breaking the payment into several smaller payments disbursed after every 100 messages sent or received. The new payment scheme is described in a dialog when the user opens the messaging tab.

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The use of a dialog forces the user to interact with free messaging at least once rather than a banner that they can easily ignore. Once the user has seen the dialog a footer will slide up from the bottom of the screen. The footer also contains a call to action describing what the user needs to do in order to be reimbursed for messaging.

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As the user sends and receives messages the progress bar will reflect the user’s progress toward their next reward. This provides positive feedback, excitement and a sense of accomplishment as well as a tangible way for the user to understand free messaging. Once the user has sent 100 messages the progress bar will be replaced by a five second notification that their account has been credited and their account balance will reflect the change.

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The progress bar will then reappear for the next 100 messages. Once the user has received payment for 5000 messages the payment notification will be replaced by a message thanking them for using messaging and the footer will slide off the screen.

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We chose to have a maximum number of free messages for this version so that we can assess how popular free messaging is, however the maximum number is easy to change or even remove as we iterate on free messaging.

We know that this feature is important to our users because many of them rely heavily on messaging apps to communicate with friends and family. One of the most common responses when we ask users why they use mCent is that they need more airtime to stay connected to family in other cities. With free messaging we want to meet this need directly so that data users earn through app discovery can be used to fulfill our ultimate goal, to make the internet free.



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