WhatsApp’s newest feature brings a completely new way to communicate with the most popular chat application in the world. Channels is a feature that’s specifically designed for broadcasts to a large number of people, rather than conversations. Meta, the company that owns it, calls it “a way to privately follow what matters”. Local and sports updates are among its uses.
What is a Channel? It’s basically a Twitter stream, without the replies and metrics. WhatsApp clearly saw that governments, transit agencies and brands were looking for an alternative to Twitter where they could share the most important updates. They see Channels as a replacement.
According to WhatsApp’s blog post about the launch of Channels, it is also an “creator tool” that allows those who have an audience to send text, photos and videos as well as stickers and polls. Channels will also be able to offer payment and other services for monetization. You can find channels in WhatsApp by searching or browsing a newly-created directory. The most recent updates will be displayed in the Status section.
WhatsApp claims that privacy is an important part of its experience. This is why admin information about channels is not shared, and the app stores only 30 days of history for a channel. The admin can block screenshots or forwards to ensure that the content of the channel remains in the channel. The channels are not end-to-end protected, but they are treated like messages you send to businesses which are also non-private. WhatsApp says it is considering ways to encrypt certain channels in the future.
It’s a feature that is incredibly obvious for WhatsApp to include. Telegram’s feature is similar to this one. It is called Channels, and it was also designed for broadcasts from one person to many. Instagram also has a feature similar to this, referred to as broadcast channels. It makes sense that this information is brought into WhatsApp. Getting air quality updates, train statuses and other relevant info feels more natural within a messaging application than on Twitter.
WhatsApp is becoming more than a simple messaging app. In the past few months, WhatsApp has added shopping and polls to its platform. It has also improved group chats and revamped the Status system. WhatsApp’s Channels are the latest attempt to bring social media into messaging.
Channels, like most WhatsApp features is also starting out small. Channels will be launched in Colombia and Singapore with select Colombian and Singaporean organizations, and only in these two countries initially. In the next few months, it will expand to other countries and allow more users to create channels.
WhatsApp is still first and foremost a messaging application — millions of people use it for chatting with friends and family. As it looks to expand, make more revenue, and become the super app that it wants to be it is trying to find other ways to be more than just a messaging app.