The Viber phone app has about 664 million users around the globe. The Viber phone app has about 664 million users around the globe. The Viber phone app has about 664 million users around the globe. (Photo: Blvdone / Shutterstock)

What the heck is Viber, and why should you be using it?

One of the world's biggest messaging apps – with more than a half-billion users – is making a push into America.

Maybe some people are simply afraid of the technology. Maybe they never got past simple texting. Well, maybe it’s time they put down that flip phone before they get hurt.

Billions of people all over the world – billions, yes, with a “b” – have tossed aside the old way of phone-to-phone messaging in favor of messaging apps, powerful programs that offer way more than a few thumb-typed characters and an outdated emoticon. You’ve heard of them, even if you haven’t yet joined the hordes.

WhatsApp, the leader in the field, boasts about 900 million monthly active users. When you combine WhatsApp with corporate sibling Facebook Messenger (about 700 million monthly active users), 1.6 billion active users are doing a large part of their messaging through just these two apps every month. It should be noted: That’s a good chunk of the 7 billion people on the planet.

In the messaging fray, another app is making its move, and if you haven’t heard of this one, it’s understandable. It’s called Viber, a free instant messaging and calling app.

Viber is hardly new to the space. The company was founded by Israeli entrepreneurs Talmon Marco and Igor Magazinnik, both of whom majored in computer science at universities in Israel. Viber has been around since 2010, begun in many ways as a direct competitor to Skype. Though “only” 44 million Americans are users, Viber has some 664 million users around the globe. It has 249 million monthly active users, according to statista.com, about as many as a little “microblogging” service called Twitter. Earlier this year, Viber made news helping out victims of an earthquake in Nepal.

With headquarters in Israel, Viber opened its U.S. offices earlier this year in Boston, and is readying a marketing blitz in the U.S. The campaign is beginning in New York, Boston and Miami, with some plans to roll out to other parts of the country, too.

Talmon Marco, a co-founder of Viber, is a graduate of Tel Aviv University in Israel.Talmon Marco, a co-founder of Viber, is a graduate of Tel Aviv University in Israel. (Photo: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)

The company is not simply pushing the app’s ability to message, bypassing phone company texting charges – Viber is free, though some phone carriers may charge you if you slip from WiFi onto a 3G network. Viber also is touting the virtue of re-starting “the good old-fashioned conversation, at a time when everyone is constricted by character counts and worrying about 'brand me' in social media," Mark Hardy, the company’s global chief marketing officer, told Advertising Age. "We're about the real conversations that happen in a protected environment."

In addition, Viber is slowly unveiling “public” chats to its American users. Public chats have been around for about a year, featuring athletes, musicians and other celebrities in a chat of their own. If you’re not a participant in a chat – you have to be invited – you can’t ask questions or post comments. But you can “sit in” on the public ones as Perez Hilton, for example, dishes the latest celebrity dirt with his friends.

Viber also is big into its unique "stickers" – think graphic emoticons – some of which are user-designed.

The idea for Viber and many other messaging and calling apps like it is that you won’t automatically hit someone’s phone number to “text.” Instead, you’ll open up Viber to message someone else with Viber … and then stick around to invite others into some chats, send some videos or photos, play some games, maybe make a call or stop in on a public chat.

“In 10 years,” Scott Nelson, the head of Viber North America, told Examiner.com, “I hope we are helping to impact billions and billions of people around the world through our platform.”

And not one of them will be on a flip phone.

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