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Kik Messenger sees explosive start — a mobile chat better than SMS?

Kik, a new chat application for smartphones that is quicker and more social than SMS, is showing impressive viral uptake. The company says it has registered 450,000 downloads in the first 10 days since going live.

And the uptake appears to be accelerating. It saw 150,000 new users in just 15 hours yesterday, chief executive Ted Livingston told me today, and the company is doing everything it can to manage the load.  “We’re just focusing on the servers,” he said this morning after temporarily freezing new downloads. See chart below for the growth pattern.

Kik has some notable technology under the hood; more on that in a sec.

First, here’s how the app works: Once you download the application (Kik supports the iPhone, Android and Blackberry/RIM), it checks your address book and recommends the friends and other contacts you are likely to know who already have downloaded Kik. You can then start chatting with them immediately. Like IM, it’s asynchronous, meaning it lets you see messages immediately, including when the person you’re chatting with is typing. Additionally, it lets you know when they’ve actually read their message.

I tried downloading it this morning, and it worked great. It was aggressive in pulling in all the contacts I “may” know. I didn’t recognize everyone it pulled. But this wasn’t really too bad, because they were only suggestions. The only people actually added to my address book in Kik were the people I messaged.

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