With over a billion users sending 55 billion messages – which include 1 billion videos and 4.5 billion pictures – WhatsApp is now the most popular messaging app on the planet, easily beating out Chinese giants WeChat and QQ Mobile. Those numbers are growing. Its answer to SnapChat Stories – WhatsApp Status – is poised to overtake Snapchat in terms of daily users: TechCrunch reports that the feature is being used by 250 million people a day, easily nipping at the heels of Snapchat’s 300 million. Moreover, its nearest competitor is owned by the same company: Facebook, which acquired WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion.
Of those 1 billion daily users, 200 million are in India. The power of WhatsApp’s popularity in India was recently demonstrated when a single message on WhatsApp brought a start-up health app a mind-blowing 9 million customers. “One of our users created a long WhatsApp message on what a public service it was, and people just started sharing it,” Prashant Tandon, the founder of pharmaceutical pricing and delivery app 1mg told CNBC.“We didn’t do any marketing to get where we are.” That surge in virality paid off in other ways, too: last year 1mg raised $16 million in Series B funding.
Moreover, the messaging app has become popular among a seemingly unlikely group of users: skilled laborers who are also illiterate. A recent article by Forbes discusses how some of the illiterate in Pakistan are creating self-sustaining businesses through “conversational commerce.” Rather than relying on conventional marketing skills or sales decks, entrepreneurs can send pictures of their previous work while those employing those lacking literacy skills can use voice notes for daily to-do lists or tasks like shopping. “I don’t know how I would have done my work (without Facebook and WhatsApp),” one Islamabad carpenter who can neither read nor write told Forbes’ Elizabeth MacBride. “I would certainly not have so many clients, but I would also have struggled with finishing my existing jobs.”
As with all things Internet, there’s also a dark side to WhatsApp. Quartz has reported on how Facebook and WhatsApp are being used to disseminate misinformation – “fake news” – in Kenya ahead of its August 8 elections. Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s Minister for Electronics and Information Technology, has also expressed concern over the Indian government’s inability to stop fake news and “objectionable content” spread via WhatsApp in India. In neighboring China, new cybersecurity legislation has empowered officials there to increase internet censorship. WhatsApp is now largely unavailable in China: its servers have been blocked.
Even so, the good still outweighs the bad. Reuters reported that WhatsApp’s popularity is growing in war zones, where humanitarian groups have found ways to document and log attacks using the app, while still others utilize it in a much more conventional way: to stay in touch with loved ones.