Facebook’s WhatsApp isn’t opening up, much to developers’ chagrin

26 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram executives share their key measures of success.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp, the popular mobile messaging and calling service, has no immediate plans to offer tools to outside developers to let them build services on top of it.We demystified it last month, but Facebook’s $18 billion acquisition of WhatsApp should begin to make more sense to people today after the company announced that its Messenger service will become a platform for third parties — as TechCrunch first reported last week.During a panel discussion at Facebook’s F8 developer conference Wednesday, moderator Mary Meeker from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers asked each of the company’s officials to talk about some of their key measures of success outside of growing users.

The Messenger Platform will allow developers to deeplink their apps into Messenger, and it will also become a communications channel for businesses and customers. Updates could also be introduced that will allow users to speak through Messenger on third-party sites — a change that seemed to be referenced in a leak this morning. WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton said a lot of their success revolves around reliability and simplicity especially since their product is used in some countries with bad network connections. “Can we really enhance the way people communicate with each other every day and do it to the point where we really want most of the conversations with the people you care the most about to happen on Messenger and not, you know, on other platforms?,” he said. Acton delivered his remarks after two developers from the audience asked when, if at all, WhatsApp would offer application programming interfaces or APIs to them.

These moves aren’t a huge surprise — they’ve been pioneered by Line and WeChat in Asia for years, and Facebook’s head of Messenger, David Marcus, gave plenty of hints in an interview with Wired last year. Last week, the social media giant also announced that it will start allowing Messenger users in the United States to send and receive money to one another in what’s known as “peer-to-peer payments.” As for when peer-to-peer payments will roll out outside the U.S., Marcus said during Wednesday’s panel discussion that it’s too early to tell and the company will have to wait and see how it pans out here. For the year, the company is focused on its voice calling service—which is available for Android now and coming to iOS soon—as well as its recently launched Web software, he said. There are already ways to use the voice calling feature on iOS, and screenshots of the implementation have circulated, but it requires a jailbroken iPhone. WhatsApp’s simplicity is the yin to the yang of Messenger’s busy platform. “No ads, no games, and no gimmicks” has long been the ethos for WhatsApp’s founders, who instead stick to the business of connecting people.

Initially that was via free messages — WhatsApp has eclipsed SMS in volume — and now it includes voice calls, which are slowly rolling out on Android devices first. Asked by VentureBeat after the panel if he could confirm his “couple weeks” comment, Acton at first said “yes,” and then backtracked a little, saying, “Well, several” weeks. If Facebook didn’t have Messenger — or WhatsApp had remained independent — there would be pressure to introduce games, business-consumer messaging or other features that are money spinners in Asia and way more lucrative than WhatsApp’s $1 per year subscription. (Though, for what it’s worth, I’ve not paid a cent for my three years using it.) However, with Messenger adopting the platform approach and offering a more interactive experience, WhatsApp can be its antithesis and focus on basic communication.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, during the opening keynote at F8, heralded Facebook’s “growing family” of apps like Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram and Groups. But there’s likely a vast overlap between that user base and the 600 million that Facebook says use Messenger; duplicating features across the two would make no sense. Krieger and cofounder Kevin Systrom also had a mobile app, Brbn, that did too much and tried to figure out what the one problem was that they wanted to solve. There needs to be a channel for users like my mum who don’t want bells and whistles, or those using low-end devices or spotty mobile internet connections. Yes, WhatsApp may not make the kind of revenue per user as Messenger if it stays simple, but I’m willing to bet that Facebook is happier to have it as a differentiated experience that keeps non-Messenger users inside the Facebook ecosystem in some form.

Acton, whose company is largely a non-U.S. phenomenon, says they’ve learned the world has very diverse problems that get in the way of good messaging. We were broadly looking at user feedback and problems they having, such as delayed push notifications or failures in the domain-name system, Acton says. Meeker: Asynchronous, instant text communication didn’t use to exist before WhatsApp, so will it still be a dominant way to communicate in five years? Basic text messaging is going to remain core, Marcus says, so the question is whether you can upgrade such a platform to say, include phone capability.

How do you prevent that from happening and avoid adding new stuff? (Thanks for not letting that go, Mary.) I’m a purist to the user experience, Acton says, and the users aren’t writing in asking for an all-in-one product. Q: When will WhatsApp have its own API? (Yes, this is a software developer conference–he’s referring to Application Programming Interface, the code that allows other developers to use its services in their own).

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