The 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:
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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
“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
- “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:
- WhatTheApp? Why Facebook would spend $16 billion on an app with no advertising
- Why Seattle needs a WhatsApp
- Facebook buys WhatsApp messaging service for $16B