uwstudentsThe big news out of the tech world on Tuesday was Facebook’s $19 billion purchase of the WhatsApp messaging service. The acquisition is Facebook’s biggest by far, giving the social network a wildly-popular app with more than 450 million monthly users — 100 million of which have signed up in the last four months.

Much of that growth is driven by younger generations, the same people who seem to be losing interest in Facebook as a social media service.

So what do college students think of WhatsApp? To answer that question, I ventured over to my old stomping grounds on the University of Washington campus, where surely everyone is using it … right?

As it turns out, no.

I spoke to about 20 students and asked the same question to each: “How do you use WhatsApp?” Guess what: not a single person I approached said they had the app on their smartphones. Some heard of Tuesday’s news, and others had friends that used it. But no one actually used it to message friends and family.

Interestingly, though, I asked my Facebook network the same question and received more than 30 responses. This time, nearly everyone said they used WhatsApp — mostly for communicating internationally and in groups.

Why the difference? Chalk it up to self-selection. People most inclined to respond to my Facebook question were those who had used the app before, whereas my experiment at the University of Washington was more random.

Nonetheless, the two sets of responses give a sense for how college students and people in their 20s are using WhatsApp, provide a glimpse into the competitive landscape for chat apps, and show that WhatsApp still has plenty of potential to grow. Here’s what the students at UW had to say about WhatsApp:

IMG_7201 copy“I’ve heard that it’s a free messaging system. I don’t know anything more about it. I generally split my time between Facebook Messenger, regular texting and iMessage. I don’t think I’d download WhatsApp because I already use the Facebook Messenger app, so the good attributes of WhatsApp will probably just enter the Facebook app anyways.” — Ian Fike, senior.  


IMG_7204 copy“What’s up? No, I don’t use it. I use text messaging or Facebook.” — Ari Gordon, freshman




IMG_7206 copy“I don’t use it at all. I’ve heard of it but I have so many other things I do online that it would just be another time-consuming thing. I use Facebook or texting to talk to people.” — Iris Gonzalez, junior.


IMG_7207 copy“I just got an update on my phone that said something about Facebook buying it, but I have no idea what it is. I just use text messaging or Facebook for people I don’t keep in contact with too much.” — Nick Larrivee, junior.


IMG_7208 copy“I don’t use it. I know what it is and if I used it, I would use it to talk to my international friends. I would use it if I had a smartphone.” — Alison Chiu, freshman



IMG_7202 copy“I heard about that yesterday and I don’t even know what it is. Do you know what it is? Can you explain it to me? I just use texting and phone calls — those are my main two methods of communication.” — Nick Rogstead, senior.


IMG_7209 copy“I don’t use it, but only very recently saw it on some news show. I use texting mainly, sometimes actual phone calls, sometimes Facebook.” — Annie Kirking, PhD student.



IMG_7211 copy“What? WhatsApp? What’s WhatsApp? I don’t use it. I am very, very technologically inept. I use a Mac because I don’t know how to use a computer, basically. I just text with my smartphone to communicate with friends and Facebook chat on occasion. I call more frequently.” — Sean Murphy, sophomore.


IMG_7213 copy“I’ve heard of it, but don’t use it. My friends and I use WeChat.” — Ted Zhou, junior.




IMG_7215 copy“I actually have used it when I studied abroad in Spain. I used it to communicate with people there because we didn’t have data. I don’t really use it back in the U.S. and just use texting.” — Zoey Dingle, senior.


IMG_7203 copy
“I haven’t used it. I heard that Facebook is buying it for $18 billion dollars or something. I just use the regular messaging thing. I try to stay off Facebook because there’s 500 people that can try to get a hold of me and I usually don’t have time to chat with people. Mostly just use text to tell my wife I’m coming home or whatever.” — Dave Brodhead, senior.

IMG_7217 copy“What? I haven’t heard of that. I text or use Facebook messenger.” — Ysabel Sandoval, freshman.



IMG_7205 copy
“WhatsApp? I have a basic phone and have never heard of that. I use texts, and Facebook chat when I’m on the computer.” — Awet Alazar, junior



IMG_7218 copy“Yeah, my boyfriend uses WhatsApp a ton to communicate with all his friends because they all go to different colleges. I would use it if I had more purpose for it. He uses it because his friends live in different areas. That’s how he stays in communication. I just use texting right now — Fatima Avelar, freshman


IMG_7219 copy“WhatsApp? What’s WhatsApp? I use Facebook Messenger.” — Mariko Howard, freshman

“I used to use it to communicate with my relatives in Mexico. Now that I have a texting plan I just use text.” — Juan Estrada, freshman


IMG_7221 copy“What? What is that? We just use texts and GroupMe to communicate with our rugby team.” — Maddi Story and Caity Fisher, freshmen.



IMG_7222 copy“WhatsApp — never heard of that before. I usually use WeChat because I can send voice messages and it’s totally free. It’s really convenient. I use it more than texting.” — Alex Xu, sophomore.



whatsappWhile the random set of UW students didn’t seem to know what WhatsApp was, check out the Facebook responses below I received from friends that are in their 20s and mostly live in the U.S.

  • “It’s basically just a texting app. A lot of people use it for group texting I think? I only use it to text my friends when they go abroad because then they’re just using wifi which is free instead of paying 50 cents per text message.”
  • “Don’t use it, know what it is, use something else very similar.”
  • “Use and know what it is.”
  • “Use it to text cousins in India.”
  • “My dad uses it with his hockey team haha.”
  • “Used to. Now I use Viber.”
  • “I use it to text cousins in Europe. It’s basically iMessenger.”
  • “Know vaguely what it is. Don’t know how it works or how to use.”
  • “I use it to talk to friends in Chile, like texting…though now I think about it, I could chat with them on Facebook messaging with the same result. Huh. The one different thing you can do is record brief voice messages to send, too.”
  • “Yes! I have been using it for years.”
  • “Use it to contact family outside of the US. I also use Viber.”
  • (Friend living in Europe) “If you’re looking to message anyone in Europe this is your only choice. It’s huge — SMS is almost never used, in my experience.”
  • “I feel like it used to come preinstalled on my android phones. I re-downloaded it yesterday with all the news and have been pretty unimpressed since I’m not chatting with anyone internationally.”
  • “I use it all the time — I have two friends in Spain and we group text with each other and two friends here in the US. We can easily send photos, videos.”
  • “I used it when I went on trips out of the country to text everyone back home.”
  • “Yeah, it’s texting and voice-texting, pretty cool. Not as good as WeChat though.”
  • “Is it anything like tinder?”
  • “Hell yeah. I love whatsapp.”
  • “Use it all the time since I started grad school. Great for internationals because it’s basically text over data or WiFi. Also really well-organized group messages. Way better than group texts. Also easiest way to send photos and videos.”
  • (Friend in Europe) “Use it every day just about to text friends and people all over the world for free … everyone knows what it is wherever you go generally.”
  • “Yes and I love it.”
  • “No, never. As others have said…just use Facebook chat.”
  • “Use it everyday for family and friends out of the U.S. Feels like it’s more commonly used out of the U.S. I wanna say it originally began with Blackberry users that wanted to text people that didnt have BBM so they used WhatsApp.”
  • “Yes — a lot to stay in contact with my international friends from high school; used it even more back in the day when texting was so expensive and long-distance or international texting hurt your bill a lot. Back then, it served as an “all-in-one BBM.”
  • “I also think a lot of younger people use it. Our generation and older use Facebook and Twitter but a lot of the younger high school kids and what not use other social media that people not into tech may not have heard of. We are getting old.”
  • “I love whatsapp…great way to stay in touch with friends abroad.”

Related WhatsApp stories: 

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  • Mike

    The only people I know using it are my friends kids in middle school

    • alf

      go with wechat or qq

  • B_Sack

    Outside the US its huge. 450million active users. Most people think if its not big in the US it doesn’t exist…..

    • Jonathan James Rychart

      I never think that; I just don’t care. So others use it? Why does that matter to me? Nobody I know uses it. Am I supposed to talk to myself, or make friends with people across the globe so I won’t be “politically incorrect” by using something other Americans use?

  • http://blog.CascadeSoft.net @CascadeRam

    >>Why the difference? Chalk it up to self-selection.

    I think your analysis is mistaken. Relatively speaking, WhatsApp is not very popular in the US and that explains why many UW students don’t know about it.

    However, it is very popular in many other countries (a big majority of its 450 million users are abroad). That explains why your facebook friends who communicate internationally are more likely to be using WhatsApp.

    • Taylor Soper

      Hey Ram, yes, I think you’re right on this. It’s definitely more popular outside the U.S. I noted “self-selection” because the survey method on Facebook was different than me going up to random students on campus. The Facebook question allowed people who used it to speak up, and those people were more inclined to say something versus those who had no idea about it. If asked 20 of my Facebook friends at random if they used WhatsApp, I think I’d get a similar result to my random query at UW.

      • http://blog.CascadeSoft.net @CascadeRam

        yes, the method was different, but that (in itself) doesn’t explain the different results. In this case, the difference in demographics was more much relevant than the method of reporting.

        Among the 20 students, you said that “not a single person I approached said they had the app on their smartphones”.
        If some of these 20 students had posted a facebook survey among their friends, they would have also probably got a 0% yes-response for WhatsApp usage. However, your facebook-network isn’t limited to UW students which is why you got close to 30 yes-responses.

        WhatsApp isn’t targeting the UW student population or their friends and that explains the different results. In a different demographic (like a university in India, Brazil etc), you’ll get a much higher yes-response percentage.

      • FredLac

        Have you asked your friends in Australia? Germany? Brazil. Oh, wait do you know anyone outside Seattle or the US/Canada? This is a pretty useless article without context honnestly. OK, UW students don’t use What’s app so it’s a lousy purchase from FB? Is this your point? Just to provide more relevant data to this discussion: http://www.businessinsider.com/whatsapp-chart-global-market-app-annie-2014-2

  • Slaggggg

    I am surprised these college students are saying the formal form “whatever” instead of the more colloquial “what evs”

  • TronSheridan

    Never heard of it, will never use it. Text msgs and emails are supremely efficient.

  • klepp0906

    Did you survey an all middle eastern college or something? Jesus lol

    As far as whatsapp goes, I’ve heard of it but paid little attention till facebooks acquisition. I rarely use Facebook either but I figure if it’s worth spending 19B on it has to have quite a bit of merit.

    After checking it out, I’m twice as perplexed as before.

    Someone school me.

    I can text from my phone already. (That’s the end of my arguement) lol.

    So what point/perk/plus does it have? Audio, pics, video, that’s all textable via standard text.

    Then I heard it was free (I have unlimited data but if that was the case it would have merit for some)

    Naturally, after checking it uses data all the same too…

    So please, someone tell me wtf I’m missing?? O.o

    • http://www.gregpak.com/entries/002275.shtml D.Smithee

      Texting can be crazy expensive in other parts of the world–so folks use Whatsapp. It’s superior to texting in that it handles proper group chats and media exchange like a champ.

      • klepp0906

        Now i understand I think. Sort of like iMessage? Instead of a per text charge ie: limit on texts per month, it uses data?
        Thank you! Makes much more sense now.

        • http://www.gregpak.com/entries/002275.shtml D.Smithee

          Glad to help.

  • sgtdoom

    Is Narus involved with it?

  • Chris

    I think it’s for people who cannot afford real cell service, i.e. unlimited data and text.

    • http://www.gregpak.com/entries/002275.shtml D.Smithee

      it’s actually perfect for that kind of user.

  • http://www.gregpak.com/entries/002275.shtml D.Smithee

    Of all my friends and contacts, only one uses Whatsapp. I’ve read that it’s MUCH more popular in countries other than the US. I find it interesting that the two kids who mentioned they use ‘WeChat’ are Asian–apparently that app is very popular in China (Tencent) and other Asian countries.

  • dave bullock

    I use it to talk to my dad because I dont live with him and I see him once a week but I use normal messaging to talk to my friends

  • Marta Mara Paglianni

    Most popular things across the world except the USA:

    1. Football is more popular across the planet except the USA where they play a vicious game using their hands…. so that would be handball :)
    2. Health care for all and free or low cost, is more popular too except in the USA.
    3. Great free education same as #2.
    4. No been so religion is more popular in Europe yet if is so important in the USA and Jesus rules and loves you all, read #2, #3 again, why not help the poor and suffering instead of been so greedy. Pitiful when a dog or cat is treated much better in the USA than a person :(
    4. Going topless in Europe is a lot more popular yet in the USA women will go to jail and is a no no or they are put down if they even feed their babies in public.
    5. Less crimes, less killings, not invading and attacking other lands, or cops not killing innocent civilians is more popular in Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia and even in a poor nation like Cuba yet the USA behaves like a rogue 3rd world nation.
    6. Been healthy and eating well in Europe, Japan and other top nations if popular but the USA loves to take huge bites with hotdogs and burgers and the fatter they get the more they eat. Sad sad and shorter time to live.
    7. Mass transportation rules in Europe, Canada, Japan, except the USA. The more cars the blacker the sky will get.
    8. Wassup!! What is that in the USA? A song :)
    9. How smart are the people in the USA? well a crazy ugly man name Trump, who couldn’t find a nice girl at home but in poor European nations, could become the USA president.

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