I try my best to keep up with all the web goings-on that the kids are into: For one, it's a part of my job and for two, it makes me feel not so old. But I won't lie; I had never even heard the word WhatsApp before two weeks ago when my step-mother, who lives in Mexico, suggested I download it so we can chat. Yes, my step-mother told me about it. I am lame.
But now, WhatsApp is all over my radar - and everyone else's who cares about Facebook's world domination -- due to the purchase of the app by Mark Zuckerberg and Co. If you are like me and had not heard of the app before, or even before reading this right now, it is basically a text messaging application that enables you to chat with people via the Internet. It's like Skype but for texting, and it's free for the most part.
Last week, Facebook shocked the universe by buying the app for a whopping $16 billion dollars! Billion with a B. Thus far, this is the largest purchase of a start-up ever in the history of the word start-up.
After the initial shock, analysts are now applauding Facebook on an absurd amount of money well spent. According to the people who know how to crunch numbers, the app, which currently has more than 450 million users, will soon enough hit a billion users and then it's payday.
Fox Business says:
Assuming WhatsApp evolves along similar lines of monetization as its peers while maintaining the same pace of user growth (Mark Zuckerberg expects the service to surpass one billion users in the next few years), Evercore says Facebook could derive $10 billion in revenues from the service by 2016.
So there you go, I guess.
But why purchase a text-messaging service when you are the biggest social media site and you already know everything about everyone... except their friends who are not on Facebook. Dun dun dunnnn!
There are several conspiracy-type theories out there of why Facebook wants in on your address book, which it now has access to with WhatsApp. For one, there has been a recent trend in younger people dropping off of Facebook in exchange for apps like Whatsapp that employ small-scale conversations with actual friends. On the flip side of that, older people tend to have much smaller social circles on Facebook and with access to their phonebooks, Facebook can expand its reach. So they've got you if you are jumping ship or still slowly boarding.
And of course once they have you and your grandma and aunt Sally and creepy cousin Cliff, they've got access to their likes and dislikes and that means advertising and that means dolla' dolla' bill, y'all.
Maybe in the United States we aren't downloading the text messaging app much because we've all got unlimited texts from our Walmart phones, but that is not the case overseas. India, for one, is a country that has been steadily using the app more and more on a daily basis. Additionally, many of the countries that use the WhatsApp messenger don't have access to the Internet and this is another thing Zuckerberg wants to change.
"Our mission is to make the world more open and connected," he wrote. "We do this by building services that help people share any type of content with any group of people they want. WhatsApp will help us do this by continuing to develop a service that people around the world love to use every day."
What a good guy to want to help connect people around the world. Aww. That's charitable of you to want them sucked into your sticky, evil web of data mining.
This story continues on the next page. Then, of course, there is the Big Brother version of the story of why Zuck wanted the company so bad he would pay the same amount for it that it costs to buy several small countries. Last week, two privacy groups have filed reports with the Federal Trade Commission asking for the sale to be blocked. Their reasoning is that there is some 1984 business going on.
WhatsApp is known for its very transparent policy on retaining or selling users' data; they don't do it. Period. Facebook, on the other hand, is known for its very transparent policy on retaining or selling users' data; it's Facebook's favorite thing to do!
"WhatsApp users rely on WhatsApp to maintain the privacy of their communications," Julia Horwitz, EPIC's consumer protection counsel, said by email. "Our complaint urges the FTC to investigate whether there are sufficient privacy protections in place to continue to shield the data of WhatsApp users from access by Facebook--which (for many users) was the very feature that made WhatsApp so appealing in the first place."
There are other theories, as well, that postulate the merger, some even bordering on paranoia: reading text messages, housing all communication in a cloud-based home in the sky, potentially selling your private conversations to the NSA and/or alien-robots (last theory is mine), you know, the usual stuff.
Regardless of reason, Facebook has proven once again that it is never slowing down, and even as newer apps and sites attract the more coveted younger demographic, Zuckerberg's always one step ahead of the kiddos. Or maybe he is more like that older cousin you had that used to be cool but now he just shows up to family functions with a secret stash of beer and this has become the reason you still hang around him.
I'm just waiting for someone to scream monopoly.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.