Ever since the news about Facebook’s latest acquisition broke, everyone and their grandmothers have been wracking their collective minds behind the reasons why the world’s most popular social network spent a sum as large as 19 billion dollars on an instant messaging service. At first glance, WhatsApp’s 450 million users (with about 315 million of them active on any given day), seem the most obvious reason. But then, with no clear way to monetise this, what’s Facebook’s long-term strategy behind this deal? It could be that it wanted to keep rivals such as Google at bay, and wants to build a conglomerate that owns a variety of different services, like what it did with Instagram.
Facebook possibly has a ton of potential opportunities making use of WhatsApp’s data. Think targeted ads, keyword detection on chats, and the like. However, pretty much all of these scenarios go against WhatsApp’s self-imposed rule of “no ads, no gimmicks, no games”. And a lot of other things we can think of possibly violate privacy terms. WhatsApp is currently one of the simplest IM apps to use, with no login requirements apart from your phone number. It doesn’t try to sell you things like stickers or get into the way of straightforward communication in any other way. Heck, it doesn’t even have location awareness.
Zuckerberg has already made it clear that there are no intentions to change any of that in the near future, and that the two entities will continue to exist independently of each other, despite Facebook’s own competing Messenger service.
We already know that before the deal, WhatsApp was one of the ‘world’s most eligible bachelors’, with many vying for its affections. Think about it – here’s a five-year-old startup with 50 people, helping rule the hearts and minds of 450 million people. And therein lies the key. Instant messaging is possibly the strongest use case scenario of owning a smartphone. It’s what helped BlackBerry long after its devices stopped being compelling enough for users. Instant messaging is possibly the most used personal feature on a smartphone, maybe even more than voice calls and email, and definitely more than other features like web browsing, music or shooting images. It’s the most personal, most mission-critical and really, the closest to the users’ minds. And paying $19 billion for that may well be worth it, especially if WhatsApp’s number of users and level of engagement is taken into the picture. It’s the next social network.