WhatsApp’s Evolution to a social network

Yesterday WhatsApp announced the launch of a Web browser tool for people who wanted to access their WhatsApp messages on Chrome. Currently only available for Android, more versions of this tool will soon be available. The question that comes up is what is the necessity for such a tool for a messaging service which is primarily mobile focussed.

The answer to that question is what does WhatsApp and other messaging services see themselves as? As referred to in earlier blog posts , these applications/ services dont just see themselves as a tool to replace SMS or GTalk. They look at themselves as an entirely new social platform, something to replace Facebook and eventually Twitter. It’s also the reason these services provide broadcast channels and other tools to help people share content , not just among themselves but to strangers. It’s also the reason most websites now include a sharing option on WhatsApp .

By including a web tool, WhatsApp not only helps reach out to older folks more comfortable with a regular website format as opposed to a mobile application, they also make it easier for them to track usage and trends while possibly using cookings in the website to get more information on the user.  In the future, once voice calling comes into play, they might want to enable some of the features that Apple currently provides on FaceTime, allowing folks to answer Voice calls on their laptops/ desktops and making the process seamless.

For Facebook, WhatsApp’s web tool also helps them move one step closer to integration with Facebook.Over time, the web tool might ask for a Facebook login as an alternative to mobile numbers thus helping them reach out to a wider audience and replacing their existing Messaging tool, which is one of the top apps on the Android Play Store but doesnt come close to the current usage and user base of WhatsApp. With Facebook already owning 21 % of the mobile marketing market, this might give them another digital touchpoint for future reference.it’s probably easier for them to share promoted content on the web tool, as opposed to the mobile application which wouldnt be as friendly.

It would be interesting to see the response of competitors such as Telegram, WeChat etc who are still in pockets of the world and need to expand quickly or come up with differentiators to keep hold of their existing users.

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Missed Call alert

Twitter’s recent acquisition of Zipdial brings up the question of whether Twitter has decided to target emerging markets where mobile internet is flaky and broadband penetration is weak. This acquisition, coupled with their introduction of Twitter Digits Login, highlights their clear approach towards the business of marketing and ad spend.

Twitter Digits Login, allows developers to authenticate users through their mobile number, while maintaining anonymity and ease of access. Zipdial allows Twitter to reach out to audiences where mobile apps and high speed net connections are still a dream. Through these two acquisitions, Twitter is building up a portfolio of tools which helps them provide access to a more varied audience to marketers.

From a marketing standpoint, Twitter provides two unique benefits – 1 .better targeting , specially if mobile number is tracked to a user and his tweets/ follows are analyzed to provide a better idea of his interests and consumptions patterns 2. Less complexity as opposed to Facebook, which even if accessible on Mobile browsers free of cost, is not as simple as an SMS or missed call system.

The question now is to see whether Twitter creates a local marketing wing in India and other Emerging markets to handhold brands through how to effectively use their platform ( a la Facebook/ Google) or stick to allowing agencies to make the moolah

Penny wise, Pound foolish

In the recent past, I have seen different ads for Cab services such as Ola and Taxi For Sure, all focusing on their new services. Although the general tone of the ads is funny and they convey the message, they forget that the current services are mobile centric and thus limited to a smaller audience.

The number of smartphones in India is still a meagre percentage of the overall phone presence (162 million phones ) but it faces certain issues. Fragmentation , due to different brands and Operating Systems , along with poor connectivity are major flaws in the current ecosystem. Although PayTM is providing an alternative banking system, there is still a long way to go before the larger masses can use systems like Pay TM.

We see a paucity of startups and services targeting the lower middle class. Although we have a dozen cab service providers who cater to the needs of the top 10 %, we see no alternatives for folks who are dependent on public transport and share autos/cabs. The need of the hour is for service providers to look at splitting their services into two buckets – one to cater to the masses and the other to cater to the 10 %. This is both a form of social entrepreneurship and a method to tap the bottom of the pyramid.

While Ola and Taxi For Sure have launched an auto service, the auto service can only be availed through their mobile application. The problem lies in poor smartphone penetration among the lower middle class and the necessity for service providers to come up with alternatives such as providing a special mobile number or an SMS service which could be configured. In such a way, Ola/ TFS could act as a re-router /facilitator for more players while solving the issues of poor 2G/3G connectivity as well.

This problem is not limited to travel services alone. While mobile banking costs only 2 % of the net cost for Financial institutions, we still see limited mobile banking. So the issue lies two fold-  limited penetration of smartphones which is being solved thanks to aggressive marketing from Xiaomi and other players and limited applications for lower middle class people which is independent of high end smartphones.How service providers and startups approach this conundrum, is what could be the next Google/ Zoho .