Here’s a few things that give me major anxiety:
The thought of receiving a call along the lines of, “Hi, Maseena? This is Nev and Max from a show called Catfish…”
And watching Brad Pitt in any movie. * explanation at the end of the post
Things were further compounded on Saturday, when WhatsApp was down for a good chunk of the day. And even though there were innumerable other modes of communication still at our disposal during this time, for us die-hards, having to use regular texting instead of the WhatsApp messaging system now feels much like eating pizza with a fork and knife: decidedly odd, unsettling, and also a bit fiddly.
Add to that the cost factor: if one has a significant proportion of family and friends based overseas, this becomes a very expensive pizza indeed (since messaging on WhatsApp is free and then $0.99 USD/year in the second year.)
Unsurprisingly, within a short space of time, Saturday’s WhatsApp’s service outage generated hundreds of comments from hapless users in New York to New Delhi.
“It’s the end of the world, as we know it.” wrote one user on It’s Down Right Now.
Others viewed the connection outage more ominously. “Mark Zuckerberg’s to do list: 1. Buy WhatsApp for $19bn. And 2. Turn it off so people use FB chat,” wrote another.
Personally the way I look at it, I actually do feel that Mark Zuckerberg runs a pretty ‘Upworthy’ kind of company.
Even so, the thought of Facebook (which probably holds more intel on us than the NSA) owning WhatsApp, the primary mode of communication for hundreds of millions of people – did send a shiver down the old spine.
Given the social network giant’s history, I started to think about the changes Facebook could possibly introduce to WhatsApp that would give long time users cause for un-liking.
1. Detailed registration – collecting user information
Since its inception, all that you need for signing up to WhatsApp is your mobile phone number. Simple. You’re almost anonymous. That’s unless a new type of registration is introduced in which you would have to fill in everything from your gender to your grandmother’s shoe size. And there would be good reason for requiring this level of user data …
There’s mixed chatter on the Internet whether WhatsApp would go against its previous assertions that advertising is not an option on its messaging system.
Over on Techcrunch, Josh Constine and Anthony Ha suggest that Facebook’s ample advertising revenues may actually be an advantage for the newest addition to its stable, saving WhatsApp from having to go down that route.
“Facebook makes plenty of money from advertising in its main app and website. That money unshackles WhatsApp from polluting its product with ads or slowing down growth with a subscription fee. Instead, it can drive full-speed towards getting to 1 billion users.”
Fair point. But what then happens when the “1 billion users” goal is reached: What comes next? How would WhatsApp then monetize users and ramp up its revenues if it is to remain a viable acquisition for Facebook?
“Facebook didn’t become the world’s second-largest advertising platform by ignoring the wealth of data at its finger tips,” writes Andrew Couts on Digital Trends. “And it would, at the very least, be odd for it to start now.”
3. Incorporating Facebook style messaging features such as real-time location
A few months ago, I was teasing a friend via Facebook messaging, the CEO of a tech company, about his showboating (I believe my exact expression was ‘lording it up’) – driving around in a Lambo in Miami and posting said pics on Facebook – when, as I pointed out, he should be back at his office in New York, working on his growing business.
“That’s a bit rich,” he responded, “coming from the lady currently sending this from her mobile on a beach in Turks and Caicos.” Busted. Unbeknownst to me, my location setting on Facebook Messenger was somehow switched on, even though I’d deactivated it on the Facebook settings on my computer [just not on the mobile device.]
On behalf of WhatsApp’s 450 million monthly users who also sometimes prefer to keep their whereabouts on the down-low, having a location functionality on Whatsapp, where speed of responses is sometimes essential, may just be the one additional setting we don’t want to have to think about.
4. Stalker alert: Making activities on WhatsApp even more transparent
We do know that the one constant at Facebook is change. And we also do know that Facebook is all about making its members’ activities visible, for the most part. If the techies at Facebook/WhatsApp decided to offer another level of transparency to WhatsApp, the target may be the ‘The Last Seen on’ feature – which is actually both a boon and a bother, but more an advantage in its current form on WhatsApp.
As one user looking into his crystal ball offers, tongue in cheek, “Many users simply go to their friend’s chat window to see their ‘last seen on …’ status. [Imagine] this [new] feature: if someone is staring at your chat window for 120 seconds without chatting, you will be intimated about that friend.”
Such a new feature though would be alienating to – I’m willing to hazard a guess based on that the fact that almost everyone I know has a bit of a inner-stalker in them these days – 99% of WhatsApp users.
And the most uncool thing that Facebook could do to WhatsApp? It’s already gone and done it.
5. Facebook owning WhatsApp
There are genuine concerns amongst users about the growing access and control that the social network giant has on our lives. One WhatsApp friend – a particularly prolific user of all the major social networks, offered this thought: “Facebook is literally starting to take a role of God. When WhatsApp was down, activity on Facebook and Instagram [which Facebook acquired in 2013] increased. So essentially, Facebook now has more authority on your life. It’s got the power to brainwash us. You can now make people believe whatever you want with social media. If the three things you use the most [Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp] tell you one thing, you actually start to believe it.”
* I’m not quite sure what it is with Brad Pitt, but when I watch him act, I find myself mentally willing him to nail every scene and earn an Oscar nomination – but this exercise, I have found, detracts from enjoying the movie itself – hence the anxiety.
If you’d like to share your WhatsApp thoughts, hit me up on Twitter @maseenaziegler
This article originally appeared in Forbes:
image: © Jan Persiel