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Rediff.com  » Business » Status update: WhatsApp now a chapter in Facebook

Status update: WhatsApp now a chapter in Facebook

Last updated on: February 25, 2014 14:21 IST

Status update: WhatsApp now a chapter in Facebook

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Nitin Sreedhar

Users could have a single application to interact with their Facebook friends as well as their regular mobile contacts. 

August 3, 2009: A tweet from Brian Acton, co-founder of WhatsApp, reads: "Facebook turned me down. It was a great opportunity to connect with some fantastic people. Looking forward to life's next adventure."

Almost five years and $19 billion later, the next adventure is upon us. Facebook has bought WhatsApp for a colossal sum and that leaves us with only one question: What does it mean for us users of the world's most famous social networking website and the most successful instant messaging (IM) application the world has ever seen?

While Facebook and WhatsApp have promised both the entities will not be merged anytime soon and that the latter will remain "independent" and advertisement-free, it is hard to believe there will be no changes to a service that could boost Facebook's mobile numbers immensely.

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Photographs: Reuters

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Nitin Sreedhar

The India angle

WhatsApp has about 450 million users worldwide, of which 35 million are in India; so, essentially Facebook now gets access to these 35 million users as well.

And, according to a Nielsen Informate Mobile Insights report, 48 per cent of cellular data users in India are in the age group of 18-24 years. So, Facebook can now tap a lot of young smartphone users across India. 

Aman Gupta, a software engineer in a leading Fortune 500 company, says Facebook can now make inroads into a lot of new user groups in India. "There are many segments of Indian users who don't have a social circle on Facebook and, hence, are not active users. Some don't even have a Facebook account. But they do use WhatsApp, which is as a cost-saving alternative to the traditional SMS. So, these segments will now fall under Facebook," says Gupta.

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Photographs: Reuters

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Nitin Sreedhar

The deal is good from the marketing perspective as well. "Data usage charges are very high in Africa and other developing nations, and the Facebook application uses a lot of data. Plus, WhatsApp not only uses less data but can also be installed in feature phones that run on operating systems such as Symbian. So, the deal will allow Facebook to access these users via WhatsApp," Gupta says. 

Asked whether WhatsApp could be integrated in the future, Gupta said "There is a possibility of this happening, but in the distant future."

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Photographs: Reuters
Tags: Gupta , Africa

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Next, social disconnect?

What about those who are not on Facebook but do use WhatsApp? A bunch of mixed reactions but one common thread runs through all of them: "You change WhatsApp and we uninstall."

Aliya Abbas, a Delhi-based mediaperson, is not on Facebook because she was "never interested". "To be honest, it's a waste of time. It is a place where people just show off. I am active on Twitter or LinkedIn because these are sites where you find sensible and professional people," says Abbas.

She recently started using WhatsApp and hopes the app does not get integrated with the social networking giant. "I started using WhatsApp five months ago. If it gets integrated with Facebook, I will uninstall [WhatsApp]. And I think others will do the same if this happens. WhatsApp is popular because of its privacy, and I don't think users will like the idea of advertisements popping up in the middle of a conversation."

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Image: Jan Koum, Co-founder, WhatsApp
Photographs: Hubert Burda Media/Creative Commons

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A trainee with Axis Bank, Shruti Chauhan feels Facebook is too much of "an open book" and that was the reason she never joined.

"When you are posting pictures, others can see them. There are privacy control settings but it is still cumbersome," says Chauhan. Her reaction if the two applications were merged? "If they are going to merge the both, I might as well shift [from WhatsApp] to Viber or some other IM app," adds Chauhan.

Another journalist based in Delhi, who does not wish to be named, says "she never felt the need to join Facebook". "I have always stayed in touch through communication channels that are more personal such as calling friends or writing mails. I am also scared of the 'Facebook addiction'. I don't want to walk into a trap where you spend hours and a lot of energy on people you don't even know properly," she says. "WhatsApp is popular because of the simplicity factor. Till the time Facebook is not disturbing that style they will not lose users".

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Photographs: Reuters

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Nishtha Bharti, a lawyer practicing in Delhi, joined Facebook in 2009. She eventually deactivated her account when she realised that the "definition of fun on Facebook was invasion of privacy".

"I joined Facebook after a friend made an account for me saying it would help me make some professional contacts. But I soon realised that if I continue here, then I will start supporting a trend of who posts a better picture," says Bharti. She is a regular user of WhatsApp but hopes "she does not have to shift to another IM app".

"WhatsApp is an easy way to communicate. Any change [in WhatsApp] is okay as long as it serves a purpose and does not get annoying," Bharti adds.

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Image: A view of the WhatsApp office.
Photographs: Courtesy, WhatsApp
Tags: Bharti , Delhi

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Instant messaging, Facebook style

What are the changes, if there are any, which could be made to WhatsApp? 

Users could have a single application to interact with their Facebook friends as well as their regular mobile contacts. There's also the interesting possibility of integrating Instagram (Facebook acquired Instagram in April 2012 for $1 billion) with WhatsApp. Users could edit the images exchanged on WhatsApp easily with Instagram's filters. 

This deal also completes a unique communication package for Facebook. If it decides to add a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system in WhatsApp, then users could make video calls over the internet, just like Skype. It could frame a perfect picture for Facebook, with social networking, picture hosting and editing (Instagram), conversations (Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp), plus video calling (WhatsApp with VoIP) all under its wing.

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Photographs: Courtesy, WhatsApp

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10 YEARS OF FACEBOOK

‘Like’ these facts

  • Launched in February 2004, Facebook was originally known as TheFacebook
  • The ‘Wall’ and ‘Profile’ were added to Facebook in September 2004
  • August 2008 saw Facebook cross the 100 million users mark
  • February 2009 was when the ‘Like’ button was introduced
  • In August 2010, Facebook brings the ‘Places’ feature. Users can now check-in to any location
  • Double gongs for Facebook in 2011 as it becomes the largest online host of photos and unveils the ‘Timeline’
  • Facebook bags Instagram in April 2012
  • The bell rings in May 2012 and Facebook goes public. Its stock is priced at $38 at the initial public offering
  • In October 2012, Facebook reaches another milestone leaving the 1 billion users mark behind
  • Monthly active users in India: 63,792, 680

Source: Agencies, Facebook


Photographs: Reuters

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