Last week Facebook expressed intentions to buy WhatsApp for a total of 19 billion dollars (Kshs 1.6 trillion) and two days later, WhatsApp went down for over 3 hours. During the outage, WhatsApp users took to the streets of Facebook and Twitter to express their frustrations, with theories of what caused the outage mushrooming almost instantaneously given that WhatsApp never bothered to provide explanations as to the cause of their servers’ downtime. The four main theories, from the most far fetched one to more realistic one are:
Facebook bought WhatsApp to kill it – This is the subject of this article so more on this below.
WhatsApp was migrating its servers to Facebook – This theory assumes that WhatsApp is already a property of Facebook. No, Facebook has only filed appropriate documents with SEC waiting approval. WhatsApp will become Facebook’s App once SEC approves the intention and after Facebook has settled all the acquisition requirements.
WhatsApp was syncing with Facebook – This theory suggests that WhatsApp was attempting to share user information with Facebook, and also sync Facebook’s contacts with those of WhatsApp. This theory, though it sounds very plausible, turned out to be false as when WhatsApp was back and running, still one could not add Facebook contacts directly to WhatsApp and vice versa.
WhatsApp servers were down due to increased traffic – This is the theory upheld by most tech bloggers and its the one I subscribe to. When the information got out that Facebook intends to buy WhatsApp for $19 billion, two things happened. 1. Millions upon millions of Internet users got curious as to what WhatsApp is that makes it worth $19 billion, a valuation worth more than four Safaricoms – this curiosity caused the millions to sign up on WhatsApp at an alarming rate. The rate peaked at around 8pm Kenyan time leading to server overload hence shutdown. 2. Share prices changed – The shares of Blackberry went up thanks to the positive valuation of WhatsApp hence BBM but the shares of Facebook went down.
There are those who reasoned that traffic could not have caused the downtime since it happened two days after the news broke out. However it is important to note that the news broke out on a week day when most teenagers (majority of those on WhatsApp) were in schools but when they had the first opportunity to follow up on WhatsApp, they rushed in to download the App and find out why Zuckerberg had to pay a whooping $19 billion instead of ‘just downloading it for free’.
Facebook intends to kill WhatsApp
Back to he first theory where arguments have surfaced for the possibility of Facebook’s intention to kill WhatsApp. This argument states that WhatsApp has been a threat to Facebook as many teens have left Facebook to WhatsApp hence the need to eliminate it.
This argument, although ‘rational’, overlooks one important factor – why WhatsApp is popular. WhatsApp’s popularity can be attributed to the fact that it allows private SMS like conversations almost for free. WhatsApp promises privacy, secrecy, and personal touch as the conversations happen between people who already know each other or at least have phone contacts of one another prior to commencement of communication. This is opposed to Facebook where one can add total strangers into Facebook’s friendship list and start Timeline, Status updates or Inbox communications most of which are not 1. personal 2. Private. WhasApp is also free of ads.
Just the other day I was talking with Kachwanya on the implication of social media users running away from Facebook and Twitter to WhatsApp. We realized that WhatsApp is a big threat to those who rely on ads for revenues since, as WhatsApp does not run ads, it is impossible to target those on WhatsApp with ads. Secondly, if people run away from Facebook and Twitter to WhatsApp, it will be impossible to get them read content on blog sites and other web sites via sharing links etc…but if they get any links, then the links must be either from a cleverly generated spam similar to the one that was going round yesterday or from a friend who really knows that you’d be interested in receiving the content in that link.
What will happen if Facebook kills WhatsApp
This is straightforward, an App like WhatsApp will simply take over and this is the main reason Facebook cannot risk killing WhatsApp. When WhatsApp was down for three hours last weekend, Telegram, an App similar to WhatsApp and Snapchat, received about 5 million new users that led their servers to fail. If Facebook decides to kill WhatsApp, Telegram will for sure replace WhatsApp almost instantaneously. This means the threat WhatsApp offered Facebook will still be alive and kicking. The next rational thing for Facebook to do, would be to buy Telegram – and kill it too…and another guy will come up with an App to replace Telegram – and the cycle would continue until Facebook is out of funds…
So Facebook has only one choice, to let WhatsApp be and remain independent. If WhatsApp has to change, let it change to incorporate Snapchat and Skype functionalities so that Facebook avoids buying those too.