Reports online are saying WhatsApp is going to open up to more commercial messages, allowing companies and entrepreneurs to contact customers. Which is great if you run a high-level spam operation, not so great if you just enjoy messaging your friends.
All of us know just how annoying it is when you head into your email box to pick up an important message, but have to wade through hundreds of spammy messages to find it. I mean, how many Nigerian princes are there and why do they all want to give me money?
The surprising thing about WhatsApp's move into commercial messages is that they have always been very anti-advertising. In June 2012, a blog post from founder Jan Koum said, "No one wakes up excited to see more advertising. We know people go to sleep excited about who they chatted with that day...We want WhatsApp to be the product that keeps you awake."
Despite this change of heart, I think they still want WhatsApp to be the product that keeps you awake. Just, now it appears as though they want to keep you awake with non-stop advertising.
The big problem with commercial messaging is that it has turned email, a great technological tool, into a hindrance for most businesses. My business e-mail is often clogged up with messages from advertising companies and get rich quick gurus - unless you use spam filtering services like Every Cloud Tech you end up struggling to find those important messages stuck in amongst the spam. In an old job we ended up almost forgoing email altogether in favour of WhatsApp for work communications.
It's a worry for WhatsApp users that the wildly popular app might end up going the exact same way. Imagine checking your phone during your lunch break to find 50 WhatsApp messages, 20 of them from Ronald McDonald and having to flick through them all to find the important ones from your family and friends. Half of the time I don't even check through my emails if I have more than 20 which I haven't read, it means I sometimes miss out on offers of $10,600,000 from Ugandan lawyers - but that's a risk I'm willing to take.
This move has come about after Facebook, who acquired WhatsApp for a reported $19billion, opened up their messenger service to businesses earlier in the year. This allows customers to contact businesses and vice-versa. This option seems to work well on Facebook and it has opened up doors for both quality marketing and customer service on Facebook. But has also led to random spam postings on other pages and spam messages by unscrupulous marketers.
Facebook will hopefully have learned from some of the issues and also recognise that people use WhatsApp in a different way than they use Facebook. Some things which would be minor annoyances on Facebook could make people very angry on a messaging service like WhatsApp.
The worry for me is that I already know that it's bad enough to wake up after a heavy night out drinking to find out that you've been sending drunken WhatsApp's to your ex-girlfriend. Think how much worse it would be to find out that you've just declared your undying love to a Ronald McDonald.
These kind of things are the reason we have email spam filtering and why WhatsApp would be better off remaining advertising-free!