How WhatsApp became the world’s default communication app

In 2014, THE WIRE they asked me to write a few lines about my software that I use a lot as part of a learning project. I wrote about WhatsApp because it was useless. I was an international student from India, and it was my way of providing for my family and my girlfriend, now my wife, who lived on the other side of the country. “This messenger gets all the credit for my two-year long relationship, which is still going strong,” I wrote in my application. “Skype is great, Google+ Hangouts is the best thing since Gmail but nothing says ‘I love you’ like a WhatsApp message.”

A few months after learning, Facebook announced that it was buying WhatsApp for a staggering $19 billion. In THE WIRE‘s newsroom, there was a lot of buzz at a seemingly modest price. American journalists are not exactly familiar with WhatsApp. But much of the country was locked in a battle between the green and blue bubbles, even as the world turned to a program created by two former Yahoo! engineer in THE WIREBehind Mountain View.

Texting is one of the few things you can do on WhatsApp in 2014. There was no emoji to reply, no clear videos to send, no GIFs or stickers, no reading receipts until the end of that year and of course. no voice or video calls. And yet, more than 500 million people around the world were drawn in, enjoying the freedom to use mobile phones to exchange unlimited messages with friends and family instead of paying mobile phone charges per text.

The founders of WhatsApp, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, launched the app in 2009 to only display messages that are close to people’s names in the phone book. But when Apple introduced push notifications on the iPhone later that year, it turned into a messaging service. Now, after 15 years, WhatsApp has become more and more popular – an important part of the propaganda machine of political parties in India and Brazilway to millions of sales reach customers, the way to go sending money for people and businessmen, a distribution platform media, color and drag, video chat and private chat a the elders. And it’s still a great way for long-distance enthusiasts to stay connected.

“WhatsApp is both a social media platform and a messaging platform, but it’s not both,” Surya Mattu, a Princeton researcher who runs the university’s Digital Witness Lab, which studies how information flows through WhatsApp, said. Engadget. “It has a lot of social media, but it doesn’t have the traditional problems because there are no ideas and no social media.”

In fact, WhatsApp’s popularity falls short of almost every other social networking and messaging app out there. In 2020, WhatsApp he announced it had more than two billion users worldwide. It is bigger than iMessage (1.3 billion users), TikTok (1 billion), Telegram (800 million), Snap (400 million) and Signal (40 million.) It stands head and shoulders above Instagram’s Meta platform, which holds approx. 1.4 billion. users. The only thing bigger than WhatsApp and Facebook alone, which has more than 3 billion users.

WhatsApp has become the default communication method in the world. 10 years after its discovery, its growth showed no signs of stopping. Even in the US, it has started to battle green and blue and is said to be one of the fastest growing trends in Meta. Like Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg he said and New York Times last year, WhatsApp is the “next chapter” of the company.

Will Cathcart, the former head of Meta, who took over WhatsApp in 2019 after the founders left the company, says that WhatsApp is growing worldwide to be free (or almost free – at one time, WhatsApp paid people $ 1 per year), it continues. almost every phone, including millions of low-cost Android devices worldwide, that transmits messages reliably even in large areas of the world with limited networks and, most importantly, being simple, without the bells and whistles that open many other applications. . In 2013, a year before Facebook took over, WhatsApp added the ability to send short messages.

“This was very powerful,” Cathcart told Engadget, “People who are not very literate or someone who is new to the Internet can download WhatsApp, use it for the first time and understand it.”

In 2016, WhatsApp he added hide-and-seek, something Cathcart said was its biggest selling point. The incident turned WhatsApp into a black box, hiding the content of messages from everyone – even WhatsApp – except the sender and recipient. Same year, WhatsApp he announced that one billion people were using the service every month.

This huge growth came with a big side effect: When hundreds of millions of people living in densely populated areas, such as Brazil and India, came online for the first time, thanks to cheap phone and data rates, WhatsApp became a channel for lies and disinformation. to walk freely. In India, WhatsApp’s largest market with more than 700 million users, the program it overflowed and propaganda against the opposition political parties, led by Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of the country is accused of destroying its religions.

Then people started dying. In 2017 and 2018, gangs in remote areas of the country were exposed to false rumors about child abductions sent via WhatsApp, lynched about a dozen people in 13 different situations. In response to these challenges, WhatsApp began to take action. Among other things, it made significant changes to the products, such as write clearly sent messages – the first form of error spreading on the service – as well very restrictive the number of people and groups of users who can post content at the same time.

In Brazil, the program is very visible as an important tool in the victory of the country’s former president Jair Bolsonaro in 2018. Bolsonaro, a strongman of the right, was the accused he has his followers disable spam control on WhatsApp to run a propaganda campaign, blasting thousands of WhatsApp messages attacking his opponent, Fernando Haddad.

Since then, WhatsApp has established fact-checking partnerships with more than 50 organizations around the world (because WhatsApp is private, investigators rely on users reporting to their WhatsApp hotlines and responding with checks). It also introduced additional features, such as allowing users to quickly send a Google message for analysis in the app. “Over time, there may be more we can do,” Cathcart said, including using AI to help analyze WhatsApp. “There are so many exciting things we can do there, I don’t think we’re done,” he said.

Recently, WhatsApp has quickly added new features, such as the ability to share large files, messages that self-destruct when viewed, Instagram Stories (called Status) and large calls, among other things. But a new feature that has been released worldwide in the fall of 2023 is called Channels point to WhatsApp’s goals to be more than a messaging app. WhatsApp defined Channels, in a blog post announcing the launch, as “a one-way broadcast tool for admins to send text messages, photos, videos, stickers and ratings.” It’s like a Twitter feed from brands, publishers and people you choose to follow. It has a dedicated tab in WhatsApp, although interaction with content is limited to replying with emoji – no replies. There are currently thousands on WhatsApp and 250-plus have more than a million followers each, WhatsApp told Engadget. They include Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny (18.9 million followers), Narendra Modi (13.8 million followers), FC Barcelona (27.7 million followers) and WWE (10.9 million followers). And while it’s still early days, Channels are becoming a way for publishers to distribute their content and build an audience.

“It took us a year to grow to 35,000 followers on the Telegraph,” said Rachel Banning-Lover, head of media and community development. Financial Times (155,000 followers) he said Nieman Lab in November. “Similarly, we [grew] followers of the same type [on WhatsApp] in two weeks.”

WhatsApp’s success in constantly adding functionality without compromising on growth has made it successful, both with its target audience and, more recently, with users in the US. According to analytics company shared with Engadget, WhatsApp had about 83 million users in the US in January 2024, compared to 80 million last year. A few years ago, WhatsApp he ran advertising campaign in the US – the first in the country – where billboards and TV shows highlight the program’s commitment to privacy.

It’s a sentiment shared by Zuckerberg himself, who, in 2021, he shared “a vision for social media privacy” on his Facebook page. “I believe the future of communication will shift to more private, private services where people can be confident that what they say to each other is secure and that their messages and content remain private,” he wrote. “This is the future I hope we can help bring about.”

Meta has now started using WhatsApp traffic to generate revenue, although it is not yet known how much, if any, the app generates. “A business that we’re passionate about and that we’ve been growing for a number of years is helping people talk to businesses on WhatsApp,” Cathcart said. “This is a great experience.” Meta monetizes WhatsApp by paying large businesses to integrate the platform directly into the existing systems they use to manage chats with customers. And it integrates the entire system with Facebook, allowing businesses to place ads on Facebook that, when clicked, open a direct WhatsApp chat with the business. This has been the fastest growing ad for Meta, the company said The New York Times.

A few years ago, a configuration change in Facebook’s internal network he knocked Several Facebook services, including WhatsApp, went offline for more than six hours and stopped the world.

“It’s like your phone and the phones of all your loved ones have been turned off without warning. [WhatsApp] it works like an illegal thing,” journalist Aura Bogado he says he posted on X (that’s Twitter). In New Delhi and Brazil, gig workers were unable to reach customers and lost wages. In London, crypto trading he stopped as businessmen they could not communicate with customers. One company said it was down 15 percent. In Russia, oil markets he was beaten after traders failed to communicate with buyers in Europe and Asia placing orders.

Fifteen years since its creation, the messaging app is now running the world.

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