Line unveiled initiatives to expand chatbot development, and a $45 million investment in Snow, the company behind a Snapchat-like app popular in Asia.

Line now has a 25 per cent voting interest in Snow, maker of a selfie photography and video app, featuring face recognition-enabled stickers and GIF-enabled chat functionality. Both Line and Snow have the same parent company, Naver.

Earlier media reports estimated Snow has been downloaded more than 30 million times.

Line said user numbers have been growing steadily since the app first launched in South Korea, before expanding to China as well as Japan.

By investing in Snow, Line expects to “contribute to the further expansion of Snow’s service… solidify both companies’ relationship with each other” and help Line expand its business in regions where Snow has a presence.

Initiatives to improve and encourage the development and adoption of chatbots include a new messaging API, a software development kit supporting five languages, and an awards scheme for bot developers who can add “new value” to Line’s user experience – with prizes of up to JPY 10 million (around $98,000).

Line’s interest in bots is part of its effort to create a “smart portal” which connects people to one another as well as to information, services, companies and brands, both online and offline, with the Line app acting as a gateway.

In April, it introduced Bot API Trial Accounts, through which third parties developed around 20,000 chatbots.  Now, to “more aggressively” promote development, it has updated its proposition.

Other updates include a new messaging API, which it believes is “cleaner and simpler”, supports new message types, offers group chat support and is available with sample code.

What’s more, it has updated Line Notify, an API-based service that enables external web services and apps to send notifications to users as Line account messages.

Users can receive alerts such as weather information and e-mails including specified keywords without developers needing to put in any additional coding.

Line also launched a new feature for its music service which allows users to search and listen to audio samples of music charts, songs their friends are listening to, and recommendations from Line Music, all within a Line chat.

More investments
Line will also invest in US venture capital firm DAG Ventures and France’s K-Fund 1.

It didn’t reveal how much it is putting into DAG, but both it and Naver will invest €50 million in K-Fund 1.

Line explained it is currently focused on Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia but believes “it is necessary to perform forward-looking investment activities to ensure continuous information-gathering and network-building in regions like the US, Europe, China and India where there is a high concentration of advanced tech companies”.

Line has previously invested in games studio 4:33 and at least nine US startups, and also has a fund for apps that work with its chat app.