No, WhatsApp is no substitute for Facebook

It may seem tempting to think WhatsApp could be a great Facebook substitute. But that’s amlost like giving up donuts for breakfast, and having a bar of chocolate instead.

For starters, Facebook owns WhatsApp – a little known fact. It bought it for $19 billion in 2014. That was when many were becoming aware of that thing called ‘Chat apps.’ This means much of user data, inclusing phone records, pictures, text chats etc are being scooped up into a giant data blender.

Also, Whatspp is not a mini broadcast station. No ‘PDA’ feature – for public displays of affection.

And just in case you’re wondering if Instagram might be an substitute, bad news. Facebook owns that too. Like not putting cream and refined sugar in your tea, and using consensed milk instead.


Is surge of Signal, triggered by paranoia or cynicism?

Chat apps with encryption sound like an idea whose time has come. Or rather, an idea whose time came, did a quiet exit, and after some tangle with Twitter, did an U-turn and returned as ‘Signal’.

signalSignal has powerful encryption, and has supposedly grown by 400 percent since the US election. Indeed, most people are passionate about keeping their communication away from prying eyes of governments. Or is this paranoia, knowing what we know about email being easily hacked or compromised? Even Signal has been subpoenaed by the govt! No coincidence that journalists now use encrypted chat apps more than ever.

Which explains why Chat apps like WhatsApp, Line, SnapChat and FB Messenger have quietly changed how we communicate. Hike, the SnapChat clone in India lets users chat in eight languages!

To be sure, as I said (in the last chapter of my book, Chat Republic) ordinary citizens, not just journalists, who become wary of the status quo, would refine these modes of chat in ways that we never imagined. That was in 2013.

And we the ____________ people (insertcynical,’ ‘paranoid,’ etc) are probably taking that path too.

Chat Apps don’t just destabilize business models, they ruffle governments

All this chatting is taking us somewhere, right?

Ever since I stumbled on Chat Apps, and discussed it toward the end of my book, I knew that this thing curiously called Over The Top applications (or OTT), could tempt some to see us, chattering masses, as instruments of mass disruption.

I was bemused to hear that the Vietnam government is trying to reign in the OTT business.  Wassup Mr. Nguyen Tan Dung? Worried about the revenue loss of telecoms or worried that the hoi polloi will be talking on their own terms.

Governments famously refuse to engage citizens, while pretending to call their system a participatory democracy. Some have suggested that the Internet disconnects as much as it engages people from public life. I was reminded of my conversation in April with Indi Samarajiva (on ‘Machine Readable Democracy’) when I saw this discussion.

It’s a tantalizing question. Could a participatory democracy be nurtured? Or should it be left to evolve organically?  Or as Jos Zepps puts it, could we build a digitized, engaged democracy from scratch?