Social Media

Fatigue-hit Facebook needs WhatsApp

K. V. Kurmanath Hyderabad | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on February 20, 2014

But what will happen to the idea of ad-free Apps?

Indian users of Facebook and WhatsApp, the popular chat, messenger service, have woken up to hear about the biggest new economy acquisition ever. For Facebook, it is a logical extension of the social networking site. It allows chat between the Facebook user population only, where as WhatsApp allows conversation and sharing of images and files among all the people in your contact list. At one stroke, Facebook gets access to 45 crore people who use WhatsApp.

It is a timely move too for Facebook. The attention of the young users and professionals is slowly drifting away from it as social scientists and analysts warn about a fatigue among Facebook users. The ease and convenience of sharing on platforms such as WhatsApp is fast catching up, reducing the average time spent by the users on Facebook.

Back of the envelope math tells you that WhatsApp got $40 for every user it has. Facebook knows it’s worth the trouble. There, however, is a feeling that the valuation is unduly high.

It’s high time for it to look at something different to not only retain the existing users but also to attract the mobile savvy young users. That way, the Whatsapp buy is a perfect fit for Facebook.

Zuckerberg knows it better than anyone else. About 10 lakh people sign up for WhatsApp service every day. As you read this, its user base is 45 crore. “More and more people rely on WhatsApp to communicate with all of their contacts every day,” he says in his announcement posted on his Facebook wall early this morning.

It is a plain, candid admission of a threat from such platforms.

But the acquisition poses the biggest challenge yet to the grandiose idea that web services can make money without ads.

Jan Koum and Brian Acton, the WhatsApp founders, famously announced that they would never accept those irritating ads on their platforms that play spoil sport while you chat. When you download this App, you will see a statement from Jan Koum and Brian Acton that tells you why they hate ads.

They never charge you for using the app in the first year. But they will charge you ₹55 a year thereon to give you an ad-free service.

The charter ‘Why we don’t sell ads’ that appear on the homepage of the app, they will tell you how Yahoo! and Google turn you into products by selling you to advertisers. “Companies know literally everything about you, your friends, your interests, and they use it all to sell ads. When we sat down to start our own thing together, we wanted to make something that wasn’t just another ad clearinghouse,” Jan Koum says.

“We knew that we could charge people directly. We knew we could do what most people aim to do every day: avoid ads,” he says.

Your data isn’t even in the picture. We are simply not interested in any of it, he claims.

Address book

But his Silicon Valley friend Zuckerberg’s Facebook thinks otherwise. It collects every piece of data you share and you talk. In the background, it collects information on where you walk, where you dine and where you travel. You also give them complete access to your address book.

That way, the two social networking sites are poles apart. Zuckerberg promises that he will allow WhatsApp to be independent within the Facebook fold. “The product roadmap will remain unchanged and the team is going to stay in Mountain View. Over the next few years, we're going to work hard to help WhatsApp grow and connect the whole world,” he declares.

He did talk about synergies and investments that might flow into WhatsApp. But what he keeps mum on whether he will allow WhatsApp to be ad free or not.

But, you know one day Facebook will integrate the WhatsApp functionality with itself to reinforce its strengths and keep Googles and Twitters way behind when it comes to social networking. It remains to be seen whether Jan Koum’s dream of ad-free App world can survive in a world of consumerism.

You know, it’s money that triumphs in the final analysis.

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Published on February 20, 2014
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