What’s all that about WhatsApp?
450 million people will already know everything you’re about to read, but the majority of them are not sitting comfortably with fast broadband service viewing their content on a nice big screen or even laptop. They are mobile-only users looking to cut out their service provider when it comes to messaging friends and family. We’re looking at WhatsApp this month, while it’s certainly not new, it certainly is timely.
What’s the big deal?
WhatsApp is a mobile messaging service that uses the internet to send messages between its users. Having started as a free alternative to sending text messages, it has developed quickly by adding photo sharing, audio and video clips, location sharing, and the SMS killer feature, ability for group chats.
There are many alternatives around too, such as Line, Viber, WeChat, but many attribute the WhatsApp success to a combination of native interface and simple almost non-existent sign up. Your username as it were, is simply your phone number, and your contacts are those in your address book. The service can then send messages to anyone you have the phone of.
The service is massive with the younger generation and in countries like india, where it’s even built into feature phones, like the Nokia Asha.
It’s just been acquired by Facebook for $19bn. Yes, 1, 9 and a whole lot of zeros.
How useful is it for you?
In a word. Very. If you have friends and family stretched out across the world, as many of my friends on the service do, then setting up a family group inside WhatsApp is a great way to stay in touch, chat and share in real time. From grandkids in South Africa, to your own kids in Vancouver or colleagues in Latin America, WhatsApp connects you all on any phone for free.
Unlike some mobile phone providers, WhatsApp messages are not bound by national borders, and the ease of adding photos, and short audio or video clips, is as easy as it is helpful.
What value could it add to ministry?
WhatsApp popularity is simply on fire all over the developing world, including most hard-to-reach countries, so if that’s where you want to be influencing for Christ, this app is a winner. There is growing evidence that followup tools need to move away from email and SMS to social networks and instant messaging.
One of the unique aspects of WhatsApp is that messages are not stored on central server, once delivered they are only on your phone. These messages are also encrypted as they are sent between users, unlike SMS. So, right there we have a very interesting global secure messaging system.
We know of ministries we can’t name using the service in closed countries to engage with users and seekers. There are some limits to file sharing in some places, due to government firewalls, but broadly speaking the app is available everywhere, yes, even China.
There is a huge potential to engage audiences here, especially if you’re reaching the younger generation who prefer the SnapChat and WhatsApp style of communication over Facebook.