Dearest WhatsApp, What’s Up?


Every activity of man has a communication component. It’s either in verbal or non-verbal form. What is however important is that the message is passed.

Understanding this profound dynamics is at the heart of any design in the new media landscape to address communication needs. I am not sure there is any statistics as to the volume of words used in communication by humans daily, especially in written format.

Like the sands of the sea, it must be uncountable. Albeit, there is an application which records a daily exchange of 10 billion messages. Yes, messages; not words. And a message on this application could be the length of this piece! The daily volume is more than the seven billion plus population of the world. At any rate, we can attribute at least one message to a person! It’s been a colossal success given that in October 2011; the application was recording a daily exchange of one billion messages. Four months later, it had reached two billion messages a day and now it has notched 10 billion. It is a record 10 months growth.

Enter WhatsApp, an application providing mobile messaging system for a global market. Reluctantly, I downloaded the app in October last year at the instance of a buddy. Today, it ranks in the top two applications I can’t do without. The ease, convenience and form tell of a design with deep peer review system and possibly several focused group discussion for critique. One use is all that is needed and continuous use would follow. The present figure is a sum of four billion incoming messages and six billion outgoing messages.

WhatsApp is not only a success on the African continent, it has also managed to niche the messaging platform in all continents despite being domiciled in California, USA and with this comes the dovetailing of SMS revenue. The erosion in SMS must have been clearly noticed by mobile operators. The only thing close to battling this erosion would be to make SMS unlimited for users or at a near zero cost.

With SMS and even MMS most times, it is almost practically impossible to send videos and pictures with full assurance that it would be delivered.  Three months ago, I was at a footwear store and wanted to confirm the durability of a particular shoe I wanted. All I had to do was snap and send through WhatsApp to a friend who had something similar. In less than two minutes, he had gotten my message and responded with information to aid my final decision. The app is further sleek because of its combination of file transfer features and group-messaging, one that SMS cannot readily provide.

It is arguably the replacement for text messages. However, it runs only when a phone has a data plan. Messaging has evolved with time. At conception, it was only possible within networks, later it became possible outside one’s network but at a prohibitive cost. Then came the CDMAs, and it was impossible to send messages to them until later. The global messaging market remains fragmented with several independent players but WhatsApp is light years ahead already with its success story. WhatsApp is available on most mobile operating systems, including BlackBerry, Android, iPhone smart phones and Symbian software used on many Nokia phones. A new user would easily take to it given the easy navigation put in place.

The application is unique in its generation of revenue. It charges $.99, about N158, per annum, while the first year of use is free. It is one of the few social media start-ups not relying on advertising for profit. WhatsAppallows users share videos, photos, locations, have single user chats and have group chats. It has a gallery of lovely emoticons that can practically convey any message. It also gives users the option to e-mail a conversation. Its sensitivity to privacy issue also sets it apart since it does not profile users and sell their information for advert.

Readily available for download at www.whatsapp.comWhatsApp; after installation, works by looking at the phone numbers in your address book to see which numbers are also WhatsApp engaged. It then allows anyWhatsApp users from your contact list to appear as contacts in your contact screen and chats can then be initiated. According to WhatsApp, ‘during this entire process, only the phone numbers are sent to WhatsAppfor lookup, securely, over an encrypted connection. No other information, such as names, emails, and addresses are sent.  So that you know who you are chatting with, the app then displays the names from your address book.’ It simply integrates. It does not cost me anything extra to chat with my South African friend, ditto any user with contacts in any part of the world, as long as they are also a user of the app.

Heads down, hands busy and minds on full throttle, WhatsApp co-founders Jan Koum, 37 and Brian Acton, 41 have built a social application with great social value. The duo jointly carry 20 years of experience from their previous employer, Yahoo. This is one area social giant – Facebook has faced criticism since they know everything about us, our friends, our interests, and they use it all to sell ads.

WhatsApp is an obvious pun on the expression what’s up. Despite its massive acce ptance, I do not see the total death of SMS, especially since SMS is still able to get messages out in low signal areas where voice (or data) communications are impossible or not available at all.  It is with the confidence of an eggshell that I pre-empt that soon mobile carriers and phone manufacturers will pitch sales with already preloaded WhatsApp on new phones. Meanwhile, I await that application that would offer toll free phone calls to all networks and would possibly place a daily ceiling on this! That would be the real McCoy!


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activity, component, up, verbal, whats, whatsapp

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