Meta is rolling out a broadcast-based messaging feature, called Channels, on WhatsApp, similar to a recent update it sent out to Instagram, as the social juggernaut experiments with giving more conversational avenues to its 2 billion users. The company is also aiming to earn money from this feature down the road.
On WhatsApp, Channels messages will show up in a new tab called Updates. It’s a departure from Meta’s approach on Instagram, where channel announcements are communicated via direct messages. On WhatsApp, Meta is focusing on facilitating channels for use by entities such as NGOs, medical research institutions and fact-checking bodies, as opposed to individual creators.
Admins can send text, photos, videos, stickers and polls on these channels, Meta said. Notably, these are one-way conversations, so users won’t be able to reply to those messages.
While users can join channels through an invite link, WhatsApp is also building a directory to find different channels for hobbies, sports teams and local officials. The company said it will introduce tools for admins to turn off discoverability for their channels.
“Today we’re announcing WhatsApp Channels — a private way to follow people and organizations that matter to you, right within WhatsApp. We are starting in Singapore and Colombia, but will roll out to everyone later this year. We’re building Channels to be the most private way to communicate. As a channel admin, your phone number won’t be shown to followers, and following a channel won’t show that to the admin or others following the channel either,” Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement.
He added that messages sent on Channels will be deleted after 30 days and the company will not keep any record of them.
Meta is launching Channels in select markets — Colombia and Singapore — with early adopters such as Singapore Heart Foundation and fact-checker Colombia Check. A number of high-profile international partners are also on board, comprising the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and eminent sports teams such as FC Barcelona and Manchester City, the company said. Over the ensuing months, Meta plans to extend the availability of the Channels feature to a broader set of countries, with the ultimate goal of providing any user with the capability to establish a Channel of their own.
The Mark Zuckerberg-led company is also thinking about various possibilities it can explore with this feature.
One of them is to remove end-to-end encryption for large channels to not limit the audience. The company is also thinking of this as a money-making avenue. Meta is exploring inducing payment services for businesses in Channels along with the ability to promote them in the directory. In the last few months, WhatsApp has allowed users to easily pay merchants from within the app in Brazil and Singapore.
Channels are WhatsApp’s effort at facilitating large-group conversations after Communities for its user base of more than 2 billion. The company launched Communities last year to help clubs, schools and resident complexes to have one place for all discussions. With Channels, WhatsApp likely wants to become a platform of choice for organizations and authorities to issue updates and alerts to users.