WhatsApp is going beyond messaging and phone calls with a new channels feature. Channels are a one-way broadcast tool that’ll allow admins to share information with an audience through texts, photos, and videos. WhatsApp says it’s a way for users to keep up with their favorite sports teams, hobbies, or public officials—all in a private way. Meta-owned Instagram launched a similar feature in February.
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In a blog post, WhatsApp says it’s “aspiring to build the most private broadcast service available.” What that means for users is that the personal information of both admins and followers will be protected, and no phone numbers will be shared between either the admin or the follower. WhatsApp says who or what channels people decide to follow are private, which seems helpful in a world where creeping on other people’s social media activity has become a hobby.
In the future, according to WhatsApp, there will also be opportunities for admins to build a business around their channel with the expansion of payment options and the ability to promote channels to broaden their reach.
WhatsApp is by far the most-used messaging app in the world, with an estimated 2 billion users in 2020. So, why add a broadcast tool? According to WhatsApp, users have asked them to build the feature for years. While the company says the core focus and function of the app will still be the ability to send and receive private messages, this new feature seems to be part of Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s ongoing plans to monetize the app.
Back in November, Zuckerberg told his employees that business messaging in WhatsApp and Messenger could be a major pillar of the company’s business in the coming years. And in April, during a call with investors, Zuckerberg said that there’s an “opportunity to introduce AI agents to billions of people” and the company is also exploring AI chat integrations in both WhatsApp and Messenger.
WhatsApp has not yet been a big moneymaker for Meta despite its $19 billion price tag. Mark Zuckerberg has dubbed 2023 the company’s “year of efficiency,” which has so far included mass layoffs, a new focus on AI, and well, having to figure out whether burning billions of dollars on the so-called metaverse will pay off. It’s clear Meta is having to shift its priorities around a bit.
If you’re among the many users WhatsApp says has been asking for a channels feature, the roll out is first happening in Colombia and Singapore. The company plans to expand the feature on phones in different countries in the coming months.