The Daily Northwestern

Hey, WhatsApp.

Sofia Rada, Columnist

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Facebook announced Wednesday that it purchased the mobile messaging app WhatsApp for $19 billion.

As I read about it, I realized most people here don’t even know what WhatsApp is. The purchase seemed random and absurd to many. In other places around the world, though, WhatsApp has long been an app staple.

Though $19 billion does seem a bit ridiculous, the fact that Facebook bought the app made a lot of sense to me. I was, after all, one of 450 million WhatsApp customers. It has been my go-to app for sending free instant messages for a while. It competes directly with iMessage and the Facebook messaging app.

The main reason I downloaded WhatsApp was, unlike iMessage and Facebook, this app allowed me to communicate with almost anyone.  Not everybody has an iPhone, so not everybody can iMessage. Not everybody has Facebook, either. Accessing Facebook in China is difficult because it is blocked. With WhatsApp, however, those boundaries disappeared.

Another thing I liked about using WhatsApp versus sending iMessages was that I never send a text message by mistake. When you have bad service and are trying to send an iMessage, sometimes the iPhone will give up and send a text message instead. This may not be a big deal if you’re sending a local text, but it could be if you’re messaging someone halfway across the world. WhatsApp never sends text messages, so that problem goes away.

Voice messaging was another draw. WhatsApp allows you to send voice recordings, like you would photos, directly in the conversation. No need to call and get directed to voice mail. No need to type out a long message. No need to wait until you’re in the same timezone as somebody.

WhatsApp announced Monday it will add free voice-call services. As if telecom providers were not annoyed enough at the lost revenue from text messaging that apps like WhatsApp cause, now they will have to deal with the app eliminating the need for phone calls entirely.

Maybe you had never heard of WhatsApp, maybe you had. Regardless, don’t be surprised if Facebook and other companies in the technology arena make decisions or purchases that seem out of the blue. Like this one, they’re probably not.

There’s a lot of talk about the future of another messaging app, WeChat, which is vastly popular in China. Because a lot of technology services popular here are blocked in China, WeChat was developed as a replacement with a twist. Besides basic messaging and media sharing, it also adds flavor of its own by allowing users to play games, hail taxis, post videos and make online payments.

So, tech users, if you want to avoid being surprised in the future, it’s time to look beyond Silicon Valley.

Emailsofiarada@u.northwestern.edu

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