Meta introduces WhatsApp Communities to counter competition

WhatsApp has introduced a new feature called Communities that will enable people to bring together separate groups under one umbrella with a structure that works for them. 

People will be able to receive updates sent to the entire Community and easily organize smaller discussion groups on what matters to them.  Communities will also have new tools for admins, including announcement messages that are sent to everyone and control over which groups can be included.

Mark Zuckerberg took to his Facebook page to announce the new features.

“Today we’re starting to test a major evolution of WhatsApp that we’ve been working on: WhatsApp Communities… messaging has become the centre of our digital lives. It’s more intimate and private, and with encryption, it’s more secure too,” he said.

Last year, Zuckerberg came under pressure from WhatsApp users from across the globe, when there was a change in WhatsApp’s privacy policy. It was believed that the change dealt a blow to the end-to-end message encryption between users, giving leeway to access details of the communication to a third party. 

Elon Musk seized the moment of great disquiet from WhatsApp clientele and endorsed Signal, a messaging app that preached total respect and protection of its user’s privacy. 

The Tesla owner’s two-word tweet yielded much, much to the detriment of Whatsapp and the gain of Signal.

“Use Signal,” the Tesla Inc. CEO wrote on Twitter on 7 January 2021.

By the end of the day, Signal Advance Inc. shares had surged more than six times.   

Then, Bloomberg reported that that was enough to push Signal Advance’s rally by more than 5,100% in three trading days giving it a market valuation of $390 million.

Zuckerberg has since been forced to keep on reminding his customers that the world’s most popular messaging app is end-to-end encrypted.

“Our messaging services are built around one-to-one text messaging, and that will stay the core of what we do,” the Meta boss said.

In addition, he has promised that Meta’s apps- Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp will step up their private messaging.

In a bid to enhance the privacy and safety features, Meta has added video chats, voice messages, stories, commerce, payments and more to WhatsApp and Messenger. With the Communities launch, WhatsApp will now enable its consumers to not only communicate with close friends and contacts but also with all of the different communities in their life.

Zuckerberg says that the new feature comes as a result of many suggestions from the customers to improve the app that boasts over two billion customers.

And now, the Communities are likely to serve just more than superficial social interaction and sink deeper into sectors such as education, health and otherwise.

It could be a school community with chats where important announcements for parents are shared and discussed, a work community with chats to discuss different things with colleagues, or a neighbourhood community to talk about what’s happening on the streets or in your building. 

Even recently, in the Russia-Ukraine crisis, WhatsApp took to Twitter to announce specific security and safety for its users in Ukraine, to prevent further escalation of deaths and also to bolster humanitarian aid.

“Our thoughts are with everyone affected by the war in Ukraine. Here is some important information on how to protect and safeguard your privacy for our users in Ukraine and around the world,” WhatsApp wrote on its Twitter account.

Meta company further said that it had established a special operations centre, composed of experts from across the company, including native Russian and Ukrainian speakers, whose role is to monitor the platform around the clock, to enable quick response to issues in real-time. 

“We’ve added several safety features in Ukraine, including the ability for people to lock their Facebook profile, removing the ability to view and search friends lists, and additional tools on Messenger,” Meta said.

The Meta honcho says that WhatsApp Communities will make it easier for users to organize all their group chats and find information quickly. 

Besides the Communities feature, WhatsApp has also added new features to groups on WhatsApp, comprising reactions, large file sharing, and bigger group calls. These new Whatsapp features, Zuckerberg asserts, will have end-to-end encryption and safety features from the word go.

The features will be rolled out bit by bit, a kind of important evolution for WhatsApp and online communication overall. 

The anticipated community messaging will borrow the feeds’ basic technological concept,  and extend it on WhatsApp so that its users can communicate more easily with groups of people to get things done together. 

Zuckerberg’s Meta company will build community messaging features for Messenger, Facebook, and Instagram as well. 

“I’m excited to see how this progresses as we start testing WhatsApp Communities today and roll it out over the coming months,” Zuckerberg said.

WhatsApp is also making several improvements to how groups work — whether or not they are part of a Community.  

It is worth noting that this announcement comes a day after TikTok introduced new features to boost its over one billion users around the world. On the 14th of April, the Chinese video app that is giving WhatsApp a run for its money introduced, among other features, Reminders, to curb cyberbullying, harmful content and more appropriate and relevant interactions between TikTok creators and their fans.

TikTok is the biggest rival of Youtube, Facebook and Instagram, following its crazy following by generation Z and millennials worldwide. 

The video-sharing platform from China is predicted to catch up with YouTube by 2024 when both are predicted to take $23.6bn (£18.2bn) in advertising revenue, despite TikTok being launched globally more than a decade years after its Google-owned rival.

TikTok is available in more than 150 countries and has over 1 billion users, as of March this year. This year alone, the app has been downloaded over 200 million times in the United States alone. 

In February this year, Facebook launched its short video feature Reels globally, in a move to expand its fastest-growing content format after reports that overall user numbers are down. In that very month, Facebook is said to have lost a third of its market value.

The launch of Reels is seen as a direct counter-attack, or rather mitigation of the effects of TikTok, the app that many young people are turning to. 

Social media platforms across the globe are increasing technological innovations to build a bigger customer base. In 2020, over 3.6 billion people were using social media worldwide, a number projected to increase to almost 4.41 billion in 2025.

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