From Giuseppe Romano, one of our friends at Family and Media EU,
Why did Facebook buy WhatsApp? In February, the 19 billion dollar price tag shocked digital network markets. The WhatsApp application for smartphones enables quick and cheap text and voice messages, and attachments.
It’s an acquisition, not a merger. The two companies expect to act independently for now. But the WhatsApp purchase may signal a key market evolution, if not revolution.
Word on the street is, “Facebook is too old.” Younger people prefer immediate messaging, using applications like WhatsApp. If so, Facebook was astute enough to buy its most serious competitor before it started bleeding red ink.
The data from research tentatively supports this view. Facebook peaked in popularity and use in 2012, with a billion users. It was a dizzying, almost epidemic growth for the social network, which celebrated its tenth anniversary on February 4th of this year.
That was then. A Princeton University study, published in The Guardian on that anniversary, predicted that Facebook could lose 80% of its followers and virtually disappear by 2017.
The forecast is based in part on the fact that the number of Google searches for Facebook have decreased since 2012. On the other hand, the researchers were using mathematical algorithms that measure the evolution of clinical epidemics to predict Facebook’s future:
“Ideas, like diseases, have been shown to spread infectiously between people before eventually dying out, and have been successfully described with epidemiological models,” the authors claim in a paper entitled Epidemiological modelling of online social network dynamics.
Maybe, but Facebook use is not usually a disease, and never involuntary.
This much is true however: Facebook’s cohesive strength has faded. Much justified criticism stems from the use of the term “friends” to designate mere “contacts.” An ever growing number of friends (I don’t know you guys, but I still get endless “friendship” requests, many from strangers) morphs into a bland sharing of facts and ideas that interest fewer and fewer people.
We all want to express ourselves and have difficulty accepting that others might not care much what we say. “Likes” abound, but are we merely patting each other on the back, and not truly sharing content with a broader audience? In fact, likes are almost always confined to a small circle of friends and admirers.
I don’t mean to say that all these things are useless, and I do not in fact believe that Facebook will become extinct. On the contrary, the WhatsApp deal signals foresight that will change how we seek and find approval. Exchanging messages is much more useful when it is immediate and easy. Today Facebook is already experiencing these changes. And fewer Google searches relating to Facebook may be due to a preference for compact media like tablets and smartphones over computer terminals.
I have always thought that a large portion of Facebook posts are useless. But many are interesting. As is always the case in life and in society, good ideas coexist with trivialities.
In essence, the society of the twenty-first century desires to, and will succeed in, communicating more and better. Technology changes quickly, to serve us, users and inventors. If Facebook rested on past achievements, it would fall behind. It seems to have understood this fact before many observers did.
Edited by Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.