Whatsapp is NOT a messenger

It took me three attempts to accept Whatsapp.

It was about  two years ago, when everyone started talking about ways of sending ‘free SMS’. Not wanting to be left out, I downloaded it too. Within a few hours,  I was overwhelmed by messages from old classmates, relatives and former colleagues. It felt like I was back on Orkut.

I already had SMS, Facebook and good’ol fashioned email; I didn’t want to be on one more network.  I definitely didn’t want to give (random) people the ability to disturb me on my phone.  I deleted the app in less than 5 days. When my friends started complaining about having to spend money to message me, I tried the app again. It failed as quickly.

Things changed in mid 2013. By then everyone in BlueAnt Digital moved to smartphones, apps and messengers. Now with one group, anyone could tell the team if they were running late, if a meeting had got cancelled or delayed and could get approvals on creatives without having to send emails to each other. On the move and on our phones, we started organizing and executing things. And it was all because of Whatsapp.

It’s not just us. Increasingly, I’ve come across clients and their teams, that use Whatsapp to coordinate things and to stay in touch with each other. This is especially true of teams that work across cities and countries. And it’s not only work information, they also share personal moments and swap stories. Recently, at a meeting, a client was discussing how a team member from hyderabad and had announced the birth of her first child to teammates across 1o cities in India, via pictures and a message she sent on Whatsapp.

That’s the thing about Whatsapp, it not just another messenger. The power of Whatsapp is that it lets you create groups and share real time information with a tightly controlled set of people from your phone. In essence then, it’s a social network: one that is personal, hidden from other users and is always present on your mobile. Seen this way, its a personal facebook for trusted contacts. No wonder then, that facebook wanted to get in on the conversations that people weren’t having on its network. No surprise that teenagers would rather use the app, than share stuff on network that their parents and relatives are also on.

Yes, Whatsapp isn’t the only smartphone app that lets you do this. There are lot more like Line, Kik Messenger, BBM(!) and Viber (this one also lets you make calls for free). But what has worked to Whatsapp’s advantage is the sheer number of people already on it. Like any network (as best explained by Metcalfe’s law) as the number of people you know increases on a network, it makes more sense to join in (this is my interpretation, feel free to summarize it your way in the comments section below). Since India already has the largest number of Whatsapp users in world (pegged at 50,ooo,ooo monthly active users) and now that mobile operators are offering special data packages for the app, the network is only going to grow further. (The rates of these packages are as low as Rs36 or $0.60).

For brands it poses a new set of challenges. One the one hand, a large consumer base is already present on the network and it will grow. On the other, there is just no legitimate way to leverage it for brands (Whatsapp has been adamant on this). As the numbers grow, spam increases and cost of running the network increases, you can be sure that advertising will penetrate network (some people are saying that its already happening). Until then, I’m happy using to organize and execute work.



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  • headant

    May 23rd 2014

    I think thats the inherent appeal of Whatsapp, that it gives you all the abilities of a social network (like putting up status messages, sharing images, videos and of course aiding conversations) without anyone having the ability to snoop on you. The added advantage is that with push notifications to phones, it very difficult to ignore whats happening on Whatsapp. And yes, as the user base grows, FB will be very tempted to start monetizing the app!

  • rachitmaya

    May 23rd 2014

    I'm just waiting for the day they begin advertising. In the sense, allow brands to be on it. Now that it's owned by Facebook, it is going to happen sooner or later. I may be wrong though. But yes, indeed an interesting perspective to see WhatsApp as a social network rather than just a messaging service. Honestly, never thought of it that way till now. Maine us nazar nahi nahi dekha tha kabhi WhatsApp ko. :P

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