WhatsApp’s new Status feature: Carbon copy of Snapchat?

Clarence Digital

09/03/17

If you are like one billion of the world’s population and use messaging app WhatsApp, you may have noticed in late February a major change. WhatsApp has been relatively stable and rarely released wholesale updates, but this time it was different. Enter the new Status.

WhatsApp’s new Status feature has removed a previous text message, which could be anything from a song lyric or an inspirational quote, to simply “busy” or “at the gym”. Those who were reluctant to change left theirs at the default “Hey, I’m using WhatsApp”.

Your picture or video will be gone in a day

Now, users will be able to set their status as an image or video with a lifespan of 24 hours. Once that time limit has been reached, the media will be gone forever. WhatsApp has also confirmed that users will be able to reply to the statuses of their contacts.

It is in a similar mould to the disappearing content of Snapchat, as well as Instagram’s Stories feature, which has led to accusations of copying.

But why has WhatsApp taken this step? What does it mean for users? Perhaps the most important question to be asked is, can this even work for a platform like WhatsApp?

Like Snapchat, but with your mum in the contact list

Although WhatsApp has seemingly looked to jump on the Instagram and Snapchat bandwagon of limited time content, it suffers from a major flaw the others don’t. However hard it tries, WhatsApp will never be ‘cool’ enough in the eyes of the younger demographic it is targeting to compete with its rivals.

Indeed, a great part of the appeal of Snapchat is the fact that messages are short-lived and are considered to be “in the moment”. WhatsApp has never been about that, it has focused on being a source for contacting others and sharing information. This new update feels like a move in a new direction, albeit one that does not seem to come across as natural.

Is your boss going to see your silly videos?

Snapchat messages are often humorous and sent to close friends; this crucial aspect is lost when your entire contact list will see your WhatsApp status. 

Although WhatsApp have sought to emphasise the fact privacy settings will allow users to determine who can see their status within their contact list, it does not seem to have been enough to convince many people on social media. 

With bosses and elderly family members just as likely to be using WhatsApp, younger users will in all probability stick to Snapchat. After all, it can be difficult to maintain an air of professionality if your manager is looking at content aimed at your friends, regardless of how innocuous it may be.

Another criticism has been levelled at WhatsApp; namely that it is only teenagers who may be interested in regularly updating their statuses with new selfies and videos. For those who are camera shy or have neither the time or desire to be constantly chopping and changing, this update may simply pass them by.

A lack of originality, or a necessity in 2017?

Early criticism of the new Status feature has been aimed primarily towards WhatsApp’s lack of originality. It certainly does feel like we’ve been down this road more than a few times in the past, and the striking similarities between Snapchat and its content that disappears after a brief period, as well as Instagram’s Stories feature, have not gone unnoticed.

In fact, a common joke doing the rounds on social media has suggested that Twitter will be the next platform that WhatsApp will take inspiration from, and messages will be limited to 140 characters.

As always, there is no smoke without fire and the jokes come with an underlay of truth; WhatsApp’s updates are all extremely familiar to those who use other apps and platforms.

WhatsApp is wise to join the disappearing content bandwagon

However, WhatsApp may have found itself in something of a tight spot. Without any revolutionary updates, the app risked becoming stale. Indeed, limited time content has already proven itself to be a winner on other formats, so why wouldn’t it work here?

It could be argued instead that WhatsApp have been smart to keep their ears to the ground and stay aware of what is popular. There is a limit to what can be rolled out effectively, and with disappearing content seeming to be the direction in which all the major apps are heading, perhaps it can be excused for joining the party.

It remains to be seen how successful WhatsApp’s new Status feature turns out to be, but it is an interesting step for the company owned by Facebook.