Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has twice addressed the issue of whether the social network is losing traction among teens recently, and twice he's said that it's a non-issue. Facebook isn't seeing a decline among younger people, he says (although he admits it's not as cool as it used to be.)
He might want to look again at WhatsApp Messenger, the group messaging service that is huge outside the U.S. and gaining ground within it. It's got more than 300 million users and carries 25 billion messages every day.
WhatsApp's group messaging function appears to be increasingly used as a replacement for Facebook's groups function, especially among extended families, in schools and anywhere someone needs a convenient way of mass-texting a small group of known associates.
Because you can only communicate with people who are already your contacts, WhatsApp seems like a much safer, more private version of group messaging. On Facebook, anyone can contact anyone else (assuming you haven't locked down your privacy settings).
Both Facebook and Google, with Google+, have tried to dominate group messaging. But WhatsApp appears to have nailed the formula.
Here's why families love WhatsApp, according to Grizzy Analytics' Bruce Krulwich. He's a former Samsung trend analyst:
Teens and young adults are increasingly using WhatsApp not only for traditional messaging, but also for the more general and long-term "staying in touch," including sharing status updates and pictures, that has traditionally been the heart and soul of social networking on Facebook (FB).
High school classes have created a WhatsApp group for the whole class, not for serious messages that everyone needs to see, but for sharing status updates and pictures. Their parents are happy, because using WhatsApp avoids a lot of the personal safety concerns of sharing personal details on Facebook.
WhatsApp is tearing off chunks of the non-U.S. market, where Facebook is not as dominant. Here's what's happening in Israel, per Haaretz:
WhatsApp, the smartphone app that started as a nice, free application for text messages has become a social network on its own, thanks to the function that allows users to define their own chat groups. Close-knit groups of friends and relatives stay active all the time, and provide updates in real time. Everyone is there, from cousins, to classmates to groups from the workplace and the neighborhood.
And in South Africa, WhatsApp is now more downloaded than Facebook is (of course, Facebook is more likely to come as a native app already on the phone).
(Let's not mention that Saudi Arabian courts grant divorces made over WhatsApp, even by accident.)
Rumors say WhatsApp may be worth $2 billion in an acquisition. Not bad for a company that has only 50 employees and only $8 million in venture funding. A few months ago, Google was apparently considering acquiring the company. So far, that storyline has come to nothing.
Facebook is the only other company that is big enough, and threatened enough, to also be an obvious interested party.
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