It's a great move.
Messaging is huge, and there is vast scope for bringing brands and businesses on board. It's a process that's been happening for years, predominantly with Asia-based chat apps that let users follow official accounts, but enterprising business people in emerging markets have long found ways to make use of the hugely popular WhatsApp service despite no features.
Two years ago I wrote that chat apps were becoming as important as social media for brands, and that shift has only continued. So it is high time WhatsApp got on board given its insane userbase of more than one billion people.
But it wasn't always that way.
WhatsApp once had a very strict focus on messaging only, with plenty of negative words for rival companies who dared to mix business with their chat app product.
No one wakes up excited to see more advertising, no one goes to sleep thinking about the ads they'll see tomorrow. We know people go to sleep excited about who they chatted with that day (and disappointed about who they didn't). We want WhatsApp to be the product that keeps you awake... and that you reach for in the morning. No one jumps up from a nap and runs to see an advertisement.
Advertising isn't just the disruption of aesthetics, the insults to your intelligence and the interruption of your train of thought. At every company that sells ads, a significant portion of their engineering team spends their day tuning data mining, writing better code to collect all your personal data, upgrading the servers that hold all the data and making sure it's all being logged and collated and sliced and packaged and shipped out... And at the end of the day the result of it all is a slightly different advertising banner in your browser or on your mobile screen.
Remember, when advertising is involved you the user are the product.
To clarify: No messaging apps serve display ads, so WhatsApp CEO Jean Koum -- who wrote the post -- was referring to WeChat, Line and others that allowed businesses on to their platform to connect with consumer. Back then it was a fairly alien concept.
Now, fast forward five years to this week, without forgetting to note Facebook's $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014...
We know businesses have many different needs. For example, they want an official presence – a verified profile so people can identify a business from another person – and an easier way to respond to messages. We're building and testing new tools via a free WhatsApp Business app for small companies and an enterprise solution for bigger companies operating at a large scale with a global base of customers, like airlines, e-commerce sites, and banks. These businesses will be able to use our solutions to provide customers with useful notifications like flight times, delivery confirmations, and other updates.
It's funny how things can change over time, and with a little money.