Saturday, March 4, 2017

Whatsapp Statuses and the Coming Empire

I use whatsapp beta, so I get the crap good stuff first...                      

Here in southern Africa many households don't, and have never had, landlines but cellphone use is part of everyone's life. I surprised myself and most of my friends by buying a cellphone almost as soon as they became available (back in 1998). It was a Siemens handset. Despite the predictions of the so-called experts, MTN, Vodacom and the rest took off like rockets. In some African countries cellphone saturation is now running at over 80%.
    That's amazing, but it's very costly and there are many who argue that the introduction of cellphones compounded the already dire poverty situation in many countries.
   Anyway, I thought whatsapp was great until recently. See, I tried out whatsapp as soon as I heard about it circa 2011. At the time we were all using Mxit because we didn't want to pay through the nose using MTN. Of course once we started with Mxit we got hooked on Mxit's little red hearts that flashed and winked and glowed as we sat up chatting late into the dark, and the app's sounds and pix. Mxit was a cool app. But whatsapp had the potential to be cooler and we didn't have to ditch the emoticons either.
   As with all of these apps, the takeup at first was slow--you can't chat with your friends until they're using the app as well. At first we android users all had BBM envy; but whatsapp arrived at the right time. (When BBM was finally made available for non-blackberry users it was too late.) .
  Then facebook recently bought whatsapp. We feared for the worst; we liked our whatsapp the way it was. Facebook tried to buy snapchat but failed. So whatsapp statuses have become snapchat-like. At the same time, facebook's messenger now wants to take over your standard sms stuff in addition to the already popular facebook messaging.                      
We are being encouraged to send a facebook message instead of a standard sms instead of sending a standard sms, use whatsapp for snapchatting, and whatsapp for calling: an integrated solution to all our needs, and relatively inexpensive. In fact a boon to end users. But why? Is facebook trying to muscle cellular networks aside?
   In a sense, yes. Both facebook and google want the world to have free Wi-Fi so that they can grow the world's biggest consumer base--which will be their own users, i.e., us. It's a smart plan, and working so far.  It is obviously a plan for empire-building.
   Why should we be worried? (Apart from having no private identities, that is.) Are we under threat?
   Not directly no. Not at this moment. It's not average people who are threatened but every traditional status quo, including governments. Why are cellular networks so expensive? Because 'esteemed investors' can harvest money from them. That is under direct threat. For example, MTN's biggest money harvester in Africa has always been sms messaging. With the Internet they are now trying to mine it from data; wi-fi is cheaper but few have access to wi-fi as compared to cellular. It's all about money. Cellular networks get it directly. Data uploads as well as downloads, so streaming of media, especially youtube videos, consumes a lot of data. People don't think they're downloading, because it goes into a temporary file,  but they are. Facebook can do it cheaper and at the moment we're tempted to think they're actually on our side.


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