WhatsApp lays down the gauntlet to Snapchat

21 Feb 2017

WhatsApp. Image: Jakraphong Photography/Shutterstock

Following an announcement last year, WhatsApp is beginning to release its Snapchat-like ‘Status’ feature, starting in Europe this week.

As WhatsApp celebrates eight years in existence (on 24 February), the instant messaging giant is eyeing a bigger slice of the communications pie. Watch out, Snapchat.

Beginning this week, WhatsApp is gradually releasing an ephemeral service, allowing users to send messages with a strict 24-hour window before they get deleted.

Much like Snapchat’s Stories feature that was launched three years ago, or Instagram’s Stories tool released last year, it allows friends to create content, stitch it all together and tell creative yarns to each other.

WhatsApp started out as a simple status tool, allowing friends to know what you’re up to – busy, at school, at work etc – before it added messaging to its service in late 2009. Since then, it has exploded.

With 1.2bn users, the service’s popularity today has been driven by WhatsApp’s simplicity, and an injection of fresh impetus after creator Jan Koum sold up to Facebook for $19bn in 2014.

When you get the latest update – which is rolling out in Europe first – a new option will emerge between calls, chats and contacts in your app. Within this, you can host your Status stories.

Image: WhatsApp

This is Facebook’s latest attempt to challenge and, ultimately, dominate Snapchat. The latter emerged in recent years as a social media so focused on millennials that many major tech companies felt they missed a trick. Facebook, for its part, has repeatedly fought back.

Owner of both WhatsApp and Instagram, Facebook now sports two like-for-like offerings to Snapchat’s major service: ephemeral content.

“We are reinventing the status feature,” said Koum.

“Starting today, we are rolling out an update to Status, which allows you to share photos and videos with your friends and contacts on WhatsApp in an easy and secure way. Yes, even your Status updates are end-to-end encrypted,” he added.

Encryption is something of note in this instance. Last October, Facebook recently ranked highly on Amnesty International’s encryption and personal protection scorecard.

Facebook was named the best company of those investigated, with Amnesty highlighting WhatsApp as a particularly positive tool, and the “only app where users are explicitly warned when end-to-end encryption is not applied to a particular chat”.

Snapchat, interestingly, was way down.

WhatsApp. Image: Jakraphong Photography/Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic