Today, WhatsApp debuted a new feature: Your status updates can now include pictures, videos, and GIFs. Like Stories on Snapchat, they'll also last for just 24 hours. Previously, status updates were text-based and stayed for as long as you left them.
The new version of status updates is rolling out across Europe this week and will likely hit the rest of the world in the weeks soon after, according to WhatsApp.
Sharing status updates was once WhatsApp's only function, but soon after its founding it morphed into a texting app and became one of the most popular messaging services in the world.
As with WhatsApp's text conversations, status updates will be encrypted by default. People in your contacts will be able to see your status updates, though you can select who can and can't see them. You can also send them en masse to individuals with WhatsApp's broadcast feature, which sends the same message to several individual conversations.
The feature looks a lot like Instagram Stories, which looks a lot like Snapchat Stories. WhatsApp status updates mimic the bars at the top of the screen from Instagram Stories, which show how much time is left in the story. Both Instagram and WhatsApp are owned by Facebook.
When asked whether WhatsApp consciously borrowed from Snap, WhatsApp product manager Randall Sarafa said, "I don’t think the format exists in just one app at this point. This is a model that others have contributed to and has been widely adopted, and we adopted it ourselves. It’s groundwork for the things we want people to be able to share." Unlike Snapchat, WhatsApp does not plan to introduce ads into the new status feature.
Snap Inc may have cause to be worried by increasing competition from other social apps launching features similar to its own. In 2016, its monthly active user growth stagnated in comparison to Instagram Stories and Snow, a Snapchat-esque app that's booming in Asia. Facebook and Messenger have both integrated features similar to Snapchat Stories.
Sarafa said the timing of the update has nothing to do with Snap's imminent IPO, but rather coincides with WhatsApp's eighth anniversary on Feb. 24.
The update to the status feature, Sarafa said, is the culmination of three things WhatsApp has focused on in the past year. It retooled how the app handles video so that you can play a video right away in the app rather than downloading it, it overhauled the camera in the app to provide a more immediate experience, and it made it possible to send and share GIFs. The new WhatsApp camera feature, which debuted in October 2016, lets you crop, add emojis and text, and draw on photos much in the same way you can on Snapchat.
“These are things we’re seeing people do already," Sarafa said. "So we don’t want them to have to jump out of our app to do them.
"A lot of our users, especially ones outside the US where there isn’t as much choice, who are spending much of their time in WhatsApp, will find this is a novel way to share media. It doesn’t mean they have to update their WhatsApp status and then do the same thing in another app."
The messaging app has seen media-sharing explode over the past year among its 1.2 billion users (up from a billion a year ago). Sarafa said WhatsApp users send 3.3 billion photos per day, double what they did this time last year, and 760 million videos per day, triple last year's amount. Since launching the ability to share GIFs in November, the app's seen that type of sharing increase to 80 million GIFs per day. Overall, people on WhatsApp send 50 billion messages per day.
“Videos are a hard format to deal with when you’ve got such a diverse user base," Sarafa said. "They're on all kinds of different phones and networks, and videos are inherently larger than photos. It’s a challenge, but it’s an especially rich format.”
Blake Montgomery is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Blake Montgomery at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alex Kantrowitz is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco. He reports on social and communications.
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