The tech-o-sphere is abuzz with the news of Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp, a text messaging application with 450 million users and growing, started by a guy who was actually rejected from a Facebook job many years ago.
Pundits are asking why Facebook shelled out a phenomenal $19 billion for WhatsApp – nearly 10% of its market cap.
Some speculate it’s the access to emerging markets about to explode over with mobile users while others point to the revenue model and its impressive, lean operation.
.…But could it be something else?
“Follow the photos,” says Sarah Lacy, founder and editor-in-chief of PandoDaily.
WhatsApp has been processing 500 million photos a day compared to Facebook’s 350 million, even with far less users than Facebook. A few months ago, Snapchat announced that users were “snapping” 400 million photos a day on its app. Instagram was one of the first major standalone photo sharing hits.
What do these companies all have in common? They’ve either been acquired or sought out by Facebook in billion+ dollar deals.
$1 billion, $3 billion, now $19 billion.
According to Lacy, this is a trend for Facebook’s acquisition aspirations.
“Facebook has become the world’s most dominant, and resilient, social network by ensuring that it ‘owns’ photos. Today’s purchase shows they’re determined to maintain that dominance whatever the cost,” she writes.
I think that Lacy has made a great point. But she could take it one step further.
By acquiring WhatsApp, Facebook is ensuring its dominance of social communication, period, public and private.
Let’s face it, Facebook is for your “public.” In terms of communication, Facebook is the place for you to go if you want to broadcast your message to the world.
“I’m engaged!!!!” Picture of your ring. 282 likes.
For most people, there’s a pretty loose definition of a “friend” on Facebook, everyone from your grandma to the cute guy you played Beirut with once at a house party. The average number of Facebook friends for a single user is 338. Nobody has that many friends they care about in real life.
People don’t want to share every message and every photo with everyone. And social networking today is moving away from the democratization of friendship to increasing privacy and selectivity.
There are two driving forces behind this: wanting to share more meaningful moments and connecting across special interests or in-groups. Many people may realize that all their acquaintances don’t want to see their most recent ultrasounds or their child’s first hiccup and choose to share it with their family and a few close friends only. Still on social, but not on Facebook.
That’s why there are multitudes of newer, private social networks that allow you to share messages and photos only with a select group of people. 23snaps is geared towards families. Path allows only up to 150 in your circle. Nextdoor, which has raised $100 million, only connects physical neighbors.
Facebook has introduced the option of sharing your photos in a private Facebook message with select friends, but it’s often much easier to just send a group text message. As the photo sharing numbers behind WhatsApp (and Snapchat) reveal, people are sharing massive numbers of photos privately that they’re not necessarily going to post on Facebook.
With the combined power of Facebook and WhatsApp, the Zuck-o-poly will continue to defend its throne. For now, it’ll still be the reigning patron of social communication in the digital age – both the shouts and the whispers.