WhatsApp Announces Plan to Offer Voice Calls

WhatsApp, the mobile messaging service that last week inked an agreement to be acquired by Facebook for $19 billion, announced yesterday that it will offer voice service later this year. The app will initially be available for Apple and Android devices, with subsequent offerings tailored for Microsoft and Blackberry. WhatsApp currently has 465 million users who each pay 99 cents after the first year; unlike its soon-to-be-parent Facebook, WhatsApp does not rely on advertising or pepper its users with ads.

The promised voice offering reveals some of the attraction WhatsApp offered to suitors and, ultimately, Facebook. In a Wall Street Journal report, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg observed that many messaging apps generate between two and three dollars per user. Combined with Facebook’s one billion users, that fact tends to reveal the revenue potential for the Facebook/WhatsApp deal.

Sweetening the deal for Facebook is the fact that the bulk of price will be paid in Facebook stock, not cash; the deal keeps WhatsApp away from Microsoft (which owns Skype) and Google (which, according to some skeptics or paranoids, will one day have a hand in everything).

WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum will join the Facebook board when the deal closes. WhatsApp is expected to operate as an independent unit following the acquisition.

Facebook Adds a Voice

This week, Facebook released a new app that may or may not change the face of communications (no pun intended): it enables you to make voice calls from your desktop or smartphone.

No, it’s not a video call. It’s a “free” voice call.

Which means, really, that Facebook can now be “Voicebook.”

Just like a telephone.

I recognize that there is some merit in being able to glide somewhat seamlessly between a Facebook chat or poke and a voice call, and I recognize, as well, that universe of apps includes galaxies of really useful ones (I have one that measures the pitch of whatever you set the tablet on) and not-so-useful ones (but who am I to criticize; someone, somewhere, needs an app for that). And, this article from the New York Times notes the target market of teens who might find this more convenient (lazy?) than actually dialing numbers (even speed dialing) to speak with their friends. Read more

Please Wash Facebook Before Returning to Kitchen

Policy Perspectives

Periodically, signs or policies that beg the question, “What precipitated the need to announce that?” Take as an example the stern warnings in restaurant restrooms that employees must wash their before leaving the restroom. Really? Have we fallen so low that common sense must be emblazoned on a scratch-proof, mold-resistant sign?

At the start of the new year this week, California and Illinois joined Michigan, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware in banning employers from requiring employees to provide their private social media passwords. The laws do not prevent employers from viewing what users post publicly, but rather ensure, essentially, that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas – or at least beyond the purview and review of employers. Read more

Rumor: Facebook to Target Children, Consumer Groups Want Privacy & Safety Protections

Broadcasting and Cable and TR Daily each published articles on June 18 highlighting efforts by Consumers Union, the Center for Digital Democracy and other consumer and children’s health advocacy organizations urging Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook to adopt strong privacy and child safety/parental control safeguard settings into Facebook. Read more

‘Friending’ Your Physician

Sometime last year, probably in Wisconsin Rapids, I locked myself out of Facebook. My best reconstructive guess is that the hotel’s unfamiliar IP address prompted a series of security questions, which I failed, and which ultimately locked my account. Yesterday, however (and on a lark), I recalled some of the obscure answers. I checked in, explained my absence, posted five pictures and left.

Before last night, my last update was from March 2011. Based on a cursory review, it seems that over the past 14 months I missed many funny photos; an indeterminate number of updates on who ordered what type of latte; comprehensive information regarding friends’ respective physical training schedules; and, a Facebook privacy policy update. At the moment they occur, those events probably seem pretty important (they must be; otherwise, why else would they be shared with 600 people online?).  But, over the past year I have learned of births, deaths, marriages and divorces, all without the medium of Facebook.  Even ordinary events, like dinner parties or play-dates, managed to seep through via telephone and email and, occasionally, a chance encounter at the grocery.

About a year ago, someone proposed that rural telecom advocacy could be advanced by admonishing policy-makers to imagine what it would be like to live without Facebook for 24 hours. Or, more specifically, what it would be like to live with teenagers who did not have access to Facebook for 24 hours. Well, I managed it for 14 months, and since I didn’t end up living in a cave without a haircut, my hunch is that there are more compelling and sophisticated reasons to affirm the commitment to nationwide broadband deployment. Read more

Facebook, Skype Partner on Video Calling

Last week via a press conference, Facebook announced that it has partnered with Skype to integrate video chatting into the world’s largest social network.

The goal of the integration was simplicity. “This is by far the easiest way to get connected by video,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, said during the launch. “If it was any easier, it would be like reading your mind.” Read more

JaJah Offers First Mobile Voice App for Facebook

Last week, VoIP provider JaJah released the first mobile calling service for Facebook. JaJah is not only first out-of-the-gate with a solution, but its boasting that calls can be placed for free.

Here’s how it works. The initiating caller downloads the JaJah Facebook application. The user launches Facebook on their smartphone and selects any contact currently listed as “active” in their online friends list. The contact then receives a call notification through a Facebook chat instant message, which also includes a link. To accept the call request, the receiving party clicks on the link and a browser opens to initiate the call.

JaJah says that the only cost for users relates to operators potentially charging for a local call; however, in most cases, this is typically deducted in terms of minutes from overall monthly wireless service plans.

So far the application is only available for Android smartphone users, although an iPhone version is in the works as well, with no firm release date in sight.

Facebook is the most widely accepted social networking platform in use today with more than 500 million active users. For many people, Facebook is their preferred address book and increasingly their entertainment destination.

For more, see this release.


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