Rumors about WhatsApp’s acquisition surfaced on the Internet a little more than a year ago after the release of a TechCrunch article reporting that Facebook was interested in buying it.
On Feb. 19, Facebook confirmed its plans to acquire WhatsApp via a press release on its page, drawing interest from scores of investors and affected users. Though the $19 billion move is indicative of Facebook’s success and ability to make such expensive purchases, it also reveals that its position as the most popular social network is weakening.
Over the past decade, the number of active users on the world’s largest network has grown to more than one billion people. But if you look beyond the raw numbers, you can see that its growth has plateaued, given that domestic and international markets that have access to the site are saturated with accounts.
It is probably for this reason that Facebook decided to tap into the mobile instant messaging market, which remains largely unaffected by individual country restrictions. WhatsApp allows for owners of Internet-connected portable devices (i.e. smartphones and tablets) to message each other independent of platform, carrier or country. Additionally, WhatsApp has a committed user base of nearly half a billion members, whose personal data Facebook will undoubtedly utilize in its advertising and marketing strategies.
Countless studies and surveys have shown that Facebook is declining in popularity among teens, which poses a great threat for the tech giant. Students cite superficiality and the time investment required to keep an active presence as their main frustrations with the website, and instead use their accounts to be able to share media with close friends.
Further investigation into the purchase yields that WhatsApp may not have been the smartest purchase for Facebook, assuming that it could’ve chosen among the other messaging applications. Many smartphone and tablet owners, myself included, decide not to download WhatsApp because it costs money, unlike KakaoTalk, WeChat and LINE.
These other applications have achieved enormous growth in other parts of the world, namely east Asia, in a relatively short period of time simply due to the sheer size of the market and features that target the specific cultural nuances of the region.
I don’t feel a need for any additional messaging app since I own an iPhone and a Mac, both of which use the iMessage protocol. My friends are mostly U.S. college students, and Apple dominates the technology profile of college students. A recent survey conducted at the University of Miami showed that an overwhelming three-quarters of the student body owns a model of the Apple iPhone.
Though Facebook’s plans for WhatsApp are unclear, what is clear is that the company has chosen to repeat the step it took with Instagram. In other words, Facebook has ended innovation by adopting the Google model of acquiring companies it believes will be important assets in the future. Like Microsoft, Facebook has a lot of cash and influence but is stagnant on the development front. It remains to be seen whether it will repeat Microsoft’s mistakes.
Ravi Jain is a freshman majoring in chemistry.