What’s up with WhatsApp?

By Josie Ahlquist

This will serve as my first official post as part of the blogging team on Student Affairs Women Talk Tech, which I am honored to be part of!  I am a second year doctoral student at California Lutheran University, with my research based around social media and higher education.

I will admit my primary lens of technology in higher ed is through communications, marketing and community development, hence why many of my posts will have roots in social media.  I am not always an early adopter or ‘in the know’ about every new device or platform.   It takes a little convincing and sometimes even a couple tries for something new to sink in.  Many times I will explore a new application, but with the intent of answering two questions: the what and the why.

So, I appreciated the challenge of specifically highlighting an app, which has been picking up steam with youth around the globe called WhatsApp.  Last week a number of articles were released, featuring the strength of WhatsApp, especially to youth.  I caught myself asking, “What’s Up with WhatsApp?!”

As listed on their company website: http://www.whatsapp.com/

“WhatsApp Messenger is a cross-platform mobile messaging app which allows you to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS.”

The company started in 2009 from previous Yahoo staff, with now 10 billion messages per day.  The verge.com reported that CEO Jan Koum announced there are 350 million active users, up 50 million just from August.

What does this mean?  An article from The guardian claimed it makes WhatsApp the largest messaging app in the world by users, even more than Twitter at 218 million.

Finally, what really got my attention was an ABC News feature, on how teens are leaving Facebook for WhatsApp.  The article points to teens finding networks that adults are not on and are instant communication tools.

Armed with information (like a true doctoral student/qualitative researcher), I sought to understand from others why they use WhatsApp.  I took to the Twitter stream, seeing if any of my followers actively used it.

Within seconds, responders cheered.  The common theme: communication with family in other countries.  This makes sense, as WhatsApp has the strongest force outside of the United States.

For me, without close family in other countries, it is hard to know if I would have begun using this application at an earlier date.  Come to find out, I have had the app downloaded on my iPhone for sometime, buried in a folder three swipes in.

Logging into the application was simple and automatically populated with the contacts in my phone.   When I downloaded it over a year ago, I added the byline “exploring.”  While I am still not what WhatsApp would classify as one of their 350 million active users, I am keeping a close eye and, as my byline announces, still exploring.

I encourage my colleagues to do the same.  Applications will surge, settled and compete against the next emerging platform.  For WhatsApp, this is against WeChat, who has a strong presence in China and 235 million monthly active users globally.

No matter the app, what can be assumed is that mobile communication applications are in demand.  Mobile users are looking for alternative methods for messaging other than text, especially those connecting internationally.   As higher education professionals the challenge is not to download every emerging app, rather gaining an understanding of trends and answering the what and the why.

Happy Exploring!










What’s up with WhatsApp?

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