Facebook wants to make it easier for you to communicate with your friends.
Approximately 2.6 billion people use at least one of Facebook’s messaging services – WhatsApp, Instagram, or Messenger – each month, and more than 2 billion people use it at least once a day.
Facebook now wants to integrate its messaging platforms. WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger would remain separate apps, but the technical infrastructure of the three platforms would be unified, and users on one platform would be able to easily communicate with users on another. Facebook expects the project to be completed by the end of 2019 or the beginning of 2020.
The benefits? For Facebook, they’re plentiful. First off, merging user information from WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger will make Facebook even better at targeting ads – and a significant portion of Facebook’s revenue comes from ads.
In addition, by merging the three, Facebook may be able to leverage the growth of Instagram and WhatsApp at a time when privacy concerns, the peddling of fake news, and a perception that Facebook is for “older” people is hurting it.
Facebook also hopes that a merging will keep users in its ecosystem and prevent them from using competitor messaging apps such as those owned by Apple or Google.
But will it be successful?
Integrating Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp has left many users feeling unsettled. Although Mark Zuckerberg has ordered Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp’s reconfiguration to incorporate end-to-end encryption – a security measure that ensures messages are not read by people outside the conversation – the feasibility of accomplishing such a task remains up for debate. End-to-end encryption will also make it more difficult to stymie the spread of false information, something Facebook came under fire for during the 2016 and 2018 U.S. elections.
WhatsApp is the only one of Facebook’s platforms to currently include end-to-end encryption. Users have to switch to “Secret Conversation” mode on Messenger to attain some measure of security, and Instagram doesn’t have any “secure” messaging option. Ironically, one of the reasons Facebook has had such a difficult time monetizing WhatsApp’s 1.5 billion users is due, in part, to its end-to-end encryption.
The decision to unify Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp is an abrupt change of direction for the tech giant. When Facebook first acquired WhatsApp and Instagram, Mark Zuckerberg promised them relative autonomy. In fact, Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Kreiger and WhatsApp co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton initially stayed on board and were given the ability to operate Instagram and WhatsApp independently. However, as Facebook became more involved in the direction of both Instagram and WhatsApp, clashes ensued, and all four left the company within the last few months.
It goes without saying that creating the right infrastructure for such a complex project will be a particularly difficult technical challenge for engineers, and it remains to be seen whether users will adapt – and even welcome – Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp’s unification.