Venmo, which lets Americans easily send money to each other from their phones, is rapidly replacing cash. The app processed $700 million in the third quarter of 2014, up from $141 million in the same quarter of 2013. And it has plenty of room to grow: Mobile transactions in the United States are forecasted to grow to $90 billion per year by 2017.
The most interesting aspect of Venmo is that it’s not just a payments app; it’s also a social network. When users pay one another, they fill in a text field that describes the transaction, like the “memo” line on a check. The messages are public by default. When you use the app, you can view feeds of your friends’ transactions and all public transactions. The app doesn’t publish dollar amounts, and it’s possible to make your transactions private, though public is the default.
Looking at those transaction messages can give us a better idea of how people actually use Venmo. So that’s what we did, collecting data on every public transaction for a week: about 800,000 exchanges of money between 750,000 users.
Venmo users tend to be young adults, and they love emoji, the adorable images that have become an integral part of digital language, packing lots of information into a single character. In our dataset, just under a quarter of transaction messages contained an emoji. Analyzing the most popular ones suggests a lot of eating, drinking, and partying:
Pizza is particularly popular throughout the weekend. Wine and beer peak on Friday and Saturday. The two emoji for houses, which are likely used to describe rent payments, are used on a more regular basis.
It’s worth noting that our dataset included March 1, which fell on a Sunday, and rent tends to be due on the first of the month. The house emoji might see less action in the middle of a month.
Generally speaking, Venmo peaks around 7 pm on the east coast of the US and stays fairly strong until about 3am, which is midnight on the west coast. The timing—and corresponding emoji—suggests the preponderance of Venmo transactions are people paying each other back for dinner and drinks.
Emoji use is markedly different at quieter times of the day. For example, the house emoji ranks highly from 7 am to 3pm EST. And the car and taxi emoji crack the top five between 5am and 8am EST.
(Click here for a screenshot if your browser doesn’t support emoji.)
Some of these data are skewed by messages containing a lot of emoji. The “pile of poop” emoji only holds the top spot in the midnight hour because a single payment used it 1,116 times.
Collectively, our dataset included about 450,000 emoji. Most people employing an emoji limited themselves to just one, but some very eager Venmo users, like the person who included an impressive 1,632 emoji in one go, have an outsized effect on our dataset.
The image used at the top of this piece is by Flickr user forresto and used under a Creative Commons license.