Why did Facebook buy WhatsApp? The 19 billion dollar “hit,” which occurred in February, shocked the digital network markets. For the few who may not know, WhatsApp is an application downloaded onto smartphones in order to exchange written and voice messages, as well as to send attachments (photos, videos, etc.) between individuals or groups. It is the more efficient and cost free evolution of text messages.
Yet, perhaps WhatsApp can also be considered the evolution of Facebook itself. Both companies have stated that they will move forward independently of the other, each with their own label, environment and media. Underlying the change however, many spectators see the purchase of WhatsApp as the timely recognition of an evolution that could change many things in only a short period of time.
Many are beginning to whisper: "Facebook is too old." The younger generations are deserting it in favor of more immediate messaging applications, just like WhatsApp. It would be better to make provisions while still on the crest of the wave, by buying one's most dangerous competitor.
The reasoning makes sense. The impressions and murmuring voices (just ask any young person to see how they think) are confirmed by the research and data derived from them. Facebook reached the pinnacle of its popularity and use in 2012, achieving 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.
Just like a defeated epidemic however, it could shrink and disappear within a short span of time. According to a Princeton University study, published in The Guardian on Facebook's tenth Anniversary, the digital network could even disappear from the web by the year 2017, losing 80% of its followers.
This is above all a possibility projected by researchers, not a clear certainty. Their surprising prediction comes from finding that, on the one hand, the number of Google searches for Facebook have decreased since 2012. On the other, they have applied (in a brilliant, but of course debatable way) algorithms that measure the evolution of clinical epidemics to the internet.
Perhaps their prediction will not come to pass. It is true however, that in the process of increasing its popularity, Facebook's cohesive strength has faded. Criticism over using the term “friends” to designate contacts within the network now appear justified. An ever growing numbers of friends (I don't know about you, but I am still receiving endless “friendship” requests, many from strangers) simply turns into a bland sharing of facts and ideas that interest less and less people.
Often it satisfies the desire that each and every person harbors to express himself to another, regardless of the fact that in reality, the others don't care at all. Certainly, the "likes" abound, yet even this raises doubts that we are merely patting each other on the back, and not truly sharing content. In fact, these are almost always confined to a small circle of friends and admirers.
I don't mean to say that all of these things are useless, and in fact I do not believe that Facebook will become extinct. On the contrary, the WhatsApp deal is a sign of foresight that will lead to efficient changes in how we seek and find approval. Exchanging messages is undoubtedly useful, but it is definitively more useful when it is immediate and easy to do. Today Facebook is already proof of these changes. Yet if there are fewer Google searches relating to Facebook, it is also because more and more people are leaving computers in favor of tablets and smartphones, terminals that require less space.
I have personally always thought that a large portion of Facebook posts are useless. It is also true however, that many are interesting. It is confirmation of the fact that, just as is always the case in life and in society, good ideas coexist with many trivialities; it is only natural.
In essence, there is no doubt that the society of the twenty-first century desires to, and will succeed in, communicating more and better. There is also no doubt that technology changes quickly, to serve we who use them and invent them. If Facebook rested on its own achievements, it would fall behind. I would say that it has understood this fact before we did.
Note: By courtesy of Fogli magazine.