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WhatsApp Launches Status Stories; Really Though?

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WhatsApp Launches Status Stories.

On Monday, WhatsApp, which Facebook owns, became the latest Facebook property to launch a Stories feature when it unveiled a new version of its existing status update option that it’s calling WhatsApp Status. WhatsApp’s new Status feature, being rolled out on Monday, will let users share photos, GIFs or videos overlaid with drawings, emojis and a caption that will be visible to selected friends for 24 hours, before disappearing.

When Instagram copied Snapchat’s popular Stories feature in August — it’s a tool that lets users share photos and videos for up to 24 hours before they disappear — Instagram execs said they did so because Stories was a format lots of other services would copy, too.

“[We] built on a format that Snapchat invented,” Instagram’s product boss Kevin Weil explained in December. “It’s a format, [and] we believe that format will be universal.”

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WhatsApp tested the feature for beta users in November, and now the Status tab is rolling out worldwide on iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Users can watch updates from friends and reply privately, shoot and adorn their imagery with drawings and captions and send their creations to all their contacts they’ve chosen with a persistent privacy setting. Sending media to specific friends is still done through message threads.

Status stories could also open up new advertising opportunities for WhatsApp. If it followed Snap and Instagram’s lead, it could insert full-screen ads in-between friends’ Statuses.

Here’s a sneak vid of how WhatsApp Status Stories works:


The new Status feature replaces WhatsApp’s old AOL Instant Messenger-style away messages. That was actually WhatsApp’s only feature when it launched almost exactly 8 years ago.

“The original idea behind the project was to build an application that lets your friends and other contacts know what you’re up to,” CEO Jan Koum writes. But the company tells me it saw so many people quickly updating these statuses to communicate in real time that it pivoted to chat, but always kept the away Statuses.


How WhatsApp Came About?

In 2009, when Jan Koum started building what would become the most popular messaging app in the world, he started off by building a status app.

“Jan was showing me his address book,” Koum’s friend and entrepreneur Alex Fishman told me for a profile on Koum in 2014. “His thinking was it would be really cool to have statuses next to individual names of the people.”

The idea was that if you were going to the gym, in a meeting, or had a low-battery, you could let people know the situation so they knew not to call you, or at least could know what was going on.

Hence the name, WhatsApp, or what’s up.

Koum got his friends to download the app and it basically worked, but it wasn’t getting much traction. Then Apple introduced push notifications, meaning that every time someone updated their status, everyone got “pinged.” So Koum’s friends started changing their status updates to things like “I’m on my way.”

Suddenly they weren’t just updating their friends, but sending a message. Rather accidentally, one of the most important pivots in Silicon Valley history – right up there with Uber introducing Uber X and blasting a hole in the taxi industry – happened almost overnight, and WhatsApp’s users quickly swelled beyond Koum’s circle of friends in San Jose, to 250,000.

Five years later, Facebook bought Koum’s former status-updating app for $19 billion, and the rest as they say, is history.

WhatsApp has always retained the original status update next to each user’s name, along with their profile photo. Today’s Status feature won’t replace that. It will be a new, separate tab with a + sign that takes users straight to the WhatsApp camera. Tap that button and you’ll also see updates from other friends and family – which is where the real behavioural change for WhatsApp users will come in.   

Friends can reply to the new “status” by tapping the reply button, which will be sent as a new WhatsApp message.  WhatsApp said the feature would roll out to users from Monday 20 Feb., 2017 and would be “available soon around the world for iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone users.”

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