By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large | @ChiefKMasimba | February 20, 2014
In Zimbabwe, WhatsApp, the instant messaging service with a total of 450 million users around the world, is a big thing. From facilitating business communication to cheating in relationships, the service has found its way into the digital lifestyles of many Zimbabweans who cannot afford high speed Internet.
While there are no statistics available of WhatsApp users in Zimbabwe, part of the attraction of the application for exchanging messages, photos and videos via mobile phones is its simplicity and low cost. And just to mention the name, WhatsApp, is a coup in social branding: it’s simply unforgettable.
The service founded by Brian Acton and Jan Koum in 2009, rose to prominence in 2011 and has been the de facto messaging tool for many people across the world. The messaging app has been credited for killing the good ‘ole Short Messaging Service (SMS).
With a staggering seven trillion messages estimated to be sent on WhatsApp a year, it’s no wonder why it’s a hot pick for Facebook. Facebook is second to WhatsApp in popularity in Zimbabwe. In South Africa, with a population of 60 million, WhatsApp has 10 million users compared to Facebook’s 9.4 million, according to ITWebAfrica.
Outside South Africa and Zimbabwe, WhatsApp is also hugely popular in countries such as Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, United States among others. The messaging application is also popular among young users throughout the world.
With the recent announcement that Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerburg will be forking out an astronomical US$19 billion for WhatsApp, Facebook is set to become one of the world’s most dominant mobile players. It highlights the social networking behemoth’s intention to capture the global market, particularly in developing countries.
As Facebook, which has 1.2 billion users globally, slowly edges towards market saturation, the purchase could be a mirror of the future trajectory of social networking.
Users are more likely to be attuned to a platform that is intimate and personal as opposed to Facebook which can be unwieldy and cumbersome. WhatsApp is more immediate, cheaper and intimate.
“In buying WhatsApp, which is growing faster than its rival Twitter and other social services, Facebook gains access to customers who prefer communicating one-on-one or with very small groups rather than sharing information more widely,” reported New York Times.
Facebook’s own chat platform, Facebook Messenger, has not had much traction outside users of the social networking platform. The Times reports that recent efforts by Facebook to create its own direct messaging have failed.
If you take into account that Facebook bought Instagram, the photo sharing service, and now WhatsApp, the company’s strategy is to thoroughly dominate the social networking space.
The acquisition reflects a new strategy at Facebook: the company intends to acquire or build a family of applications instead of simply buttressing its core social network, The Times reported.
With Zuckerburg’s magic, WhatsApp is certainly poised to grow exponentially. But the story of whether WhatsApp encourages cheating in relationship or it’s users’ responsibility will continue to be told as long as the instant messaging application lives.