The question came to me at the weekend after two developments. On Friday, Nokia announced that its Asha 501 model will come pre-installed with WhatsApp, the messenger that helps you stay in touch with those on your mobile contact book with an Internet plan. Industry news has it that WhatsApp will come pre-installed in the upcoming Asha 500, Asha 502 and Asha 503 mobile phones expected to be released soon.
At less than Rs. 5,000, the 501 is an affordable model, and even real smartphones made by cheaper brands come bundled with Facebook and/or Twitter already. But WhatsApp — and its emerging rivals such as WeChat and Viber — allow free text message, song and video sharing such that keeping in touch with those who know you close enough to be on your phonebook is amazingly easy. And all messenger brands are furiously building market share.
Things have come far from about three years ago, when only BlackBerry Messenger seemed to offer that facility — at a price. The new messengers are platform/operating system independent, desktop-friendly, and for all practical purposes, free to start with (though roaming and longer duration services are still evolving).
At the weekend, my classmates from my schooldates suddenly started a WhatsApp group, and suddenly I realised we had migrated from a Facebook group to a messaging app.
Such developments clearly show an emerging social media landscape in which there may be horses for courses. Twitter is becoming increasingly a public platform, Facebook a “private social” one, and these messengers a “closed group” one.
There were SMS-based social group platforms earlier in SMS GupShup and Rocketalk that have since dropped the SMS from their tags (and GupShup has adapted to corporate use rather than consumer use).
Increasingly, people who used to message me on SMS are now contacting me on Twitter, Facebook on WhatsApp. Data plans are becoming more affordable — or will become — because like electricity, they will be watched on per-month basis than piecemeal billing. It seems SMS will fade out in the new year.