Welcome!

Agile Computing Authors: Pat Romanski, Mano Marks, Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Mehdi Daoudi

Related Topics: Agile Computing, Java IoT, Mobile IoT, Microservices Expo, Linux Containers, @BigDataExpo

Agile Computing: Article

Facebook Plays Short and Long Game with WhatsApp and Oculus Rift | Part 1

Takes on Google and Mobile

When Facebook decided to invest a cool $19 billion ($16 billion upfront) for messaging app WhatsApp the entire world was bound to take notice. Telecommunications types, in particular, were keen to understand how this latest move would impact them as mobile operators have been feeling the heat from over the top (OTT) players like Google and Facebook for years. (To put this $19 billion in perspective, AT&T, one of the world's largest telecom carriers, invests about $20 billion in networks and spectrum in an entire year.) Shortly thereafter, in another surprise move and with the dust not quite settled on WhatsApp, Facebook picked up virtual reality startup Oculus Rift for $2 billion. This left many in the industry wondering what exactly was going on. While WhatsApp and Facebook's previous acquisition of Instagram for $1 billion were in keeping with its social network roots, Oculus Rift was in the video game industry and had yet to release a product. This led many to ask: What was Zuckerberg thinking? But if you dig deeper, these acquisitions are intertwined and central to Facebook's short and long term play to develop the next-generation communications platform. With WhatsApp and Oculus Rift, Facebook takes on Google and mobile providers in the race to do just that.

Let's start with WhatsApp. Messaging is one of the top activities on smartphones and these apps are increasingly viewed as social networks. WhatsApp is already an international phenomenon, even if it has not made as much of a statement in the U.S. just yet. In some markets, WhatsApp generates almost as much messaging traffic as all traditional carriers combined. Instead of people using carrier text and voice messaging at cents per message, WhatsApp users consume a few bytes of their data plan for close to zero, and send WhatsApp $1 a year. That's correct: WhatsApp charges nothing for the first year of service and then a mere $1 per user per year. That's not much to a phone company, but nice work for an app company getting close to half a billion users. This leads phone companies to pine after all that revenue they're losing. As if that's not enough, WhatsApp will add a voice calling service to its offering. With this capability, WhatsApp Facebook challenges telcos not only on mobile messaging but also for their bread and butter business: phone calls.

Facebook's entire history is all about getting more and more people to sign up and WhatsApp currently boasts more than 450 million active monthly users. The rapid rise of WhatsApp's user-base was largely due to the low cost and its commitment to not collect user data for advertising revenue, despite users providing detailed personal information to the company, including private texts to friends. If these qualities remain intact, the combined user base of both networks will be truly massive.

Zuckerberg assured the world that acquiring WhatsApp was not simply about money, but rather that it was in tune with his vision that everyone in the world should be connected. He has also stated that mobile operators should give away Internet access in developing nations. Who is going to argue against the idea that communications (in the broadest sense) has delivered social and economic benefits to people in affluent countries? If we expand opportunities to communicate by providing cheap and effective tools, then people and economies benefit, and that's a good thing. However, with free Internet access and almost free WhatsApp voice calling, Facebook can offer nearly what carriers can offer and all those customers will in reality have more disposable income to pay bigger subscriptions and respond to ads. This will mean Facebook gets richer, even as Zuckerberg implied that this would be a happy coincidence, and not the fundamental reason for the acquisition. But it's important to remember that mobile operators stand between Facebook and its customers and rallying public opinion behind a noble cause is good for Facebook and makes the carriers look greedy for not supporting the cause.

WhatsApp is obviously an important element of Facebook's strategy and the company is committed to honoring the app's principles: cheap, reliable, easy to use, no ads and preserves privacy. Just like Google, Facebook is increasingly faced with the harsh reality that many people simply don't like or trust its platform. Buying companies like WhatsApp and Oculus Rift and giving them the freedom to stick to their core roots is an important component to growing the all-important subscriber base and restoring the value and "cool" factor of Facebook long term. Rather than trying to integrate acquisitions into the mother ship, Facebook and Google (e.g., Nest acquisition) are taking a similar approach by putting their significant marketing and development resources behind the acquired companies while letting them continue to innovate autonomously.

The autonomous component is a key strategy. Facebook's internal innovations within its original social networking platform (Facebook Platform and Facebook Messenger for PCs) have not been successful. So, just like corporate giants in other industries, Facebook needed fresh infusion from the outside. For example, while Snapchat and Pinterest have been innovating in social media, Facebook bought its way in with the Instagram purchase in 2012. Facebook's "me too," Snapchat look alike app called Poke - an internal endeavor - again didn't make it off the ground. And it's not just Facebook. Google's list of abandoned projects has its own Wikipedia page that is worth a read. However, when you compare these two companies' success rates in innovation to other big companies (e.g. AT&T, GE, Ford, Nokia) they all have lists of failures alongside their successes that keep them in business. We expect Google and Facebook to be different because they are still relatively new, but now they are big and like any large corporation are just as prone to messing up big projects. Following in the path of corporate giants that came before them, buying innovative small companies is critical to their long-term strategy and relevance.

When it comes to these companies' actual wins, some might argue, for example that the Android OS and Google Web Services are only successful because they have been given way to boost Google's real business - Google search and Web ads - which are still responsible for the bulk of Google's revenue. This is a similar theme for Facebook. Both companies are riding the Web advertising wave, but now to stay on top in that field they need to remain the go-to players for the next-generation communications/advertising platform: augmented reality provided by Google Glass and Virtual Reality provided by Oculus Rift (Facebook). However it is important to note that advertising revenue has become, for these companies, not the primary goal, but rather a means to an end. Google's actions suggest that the company has a bigger picture in mind, and Zuckerberg wants to build a lasting place in history for himself and Facebook. Both companies are entering these new modified-reality markets to ensure they have a growing subscriber base and their advertising revenue is protected well into the future to give them the funds they need to do what they want in their endeavors. But that's where the similarities come to a grinding halt.

I'll get into the differences in my next blog. Follow us on Twitter to make sure you don't miss it.

More Stories By Esmeralda Swartz

Esmeralda Swartz is VP, Marketing Enterprise and Cloud, BUSS. She has spent 15 years as a marketing, product management, and business development technology executive bringing disruptive technologies and companies to market. Esmeralda was CMO of MetraTech, now part of Ericsson. At MetraTech, Esmeralda was responsible for go-to-market strategy and execution for enterprise and SaaS products, product management, business development and partner programs. Prior to MetraTech, Esmeralda was co-founder, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at Lightwolf Technologies, a big data management startup. She was previously co-founder and Senior Vice President of Marketing and Business Development of Soapstone Networks, a developer of resource and service control software, now part of Extreme Networks.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
You have great SaaS business app ideas. You want to turn your idea quickly into a functional and engaging proof of concept. You need to be able to modify it to meet customers' needs, and you need to deliver a complete and secure SaaS application. How could you achieve all the above and yet avoid unforeseen IT requirements that add unnecessary cost and complexity? You also want your app to be responsive in any device at any time. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Allen, General Manager of...
WebRTC is bringing significant change to the communications landscape that will bridge the worlds of web and telephony, making the Internet the new standard for communications. Cloud9 took the road less traveled and used WebRTC to create a downloadable enterprise-grade communications platform that is changing the communication dynamic in the financial sector. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Leo Papadopoulos, CTO of Cloud9, discussed the importance of WebRTC and how it enables companies to focus o...
Big Data engines are powering a lot of service businesses right now. Data is collected from users from wearable technologies, web behaviors, purchase behavior as well as several arbitrary data points we’d never think of. The demand for faster and bigger engines to crunch and serve up the data to services is growing exponentially. You see a LOT of correlation between “Cloud” and “Big Data” but on Big Data and “Hybrid,” where hybrid hosting is the sanest approach to the Big Data Infrastructure pro...
In his General Session at 16th Cloud Expo, David Shacochis, host of The Hybrid IT Files podcast and Vice President at CenturyLink, investigated three key trends of the “gigabit economy" though the story of a Fortune 500 communications company in transformation. Narrating how multi-modal hybrid IT, service automation, and agile delivery all intersect, he will cover the role of storytelling and empathy in achieving strategic alignment between the enterprise and its information technology.
Buzzword alert: Microservices and IoT at a DevOps conference? What could possibly go wrong? In this Power Panel at DevOps Summit, moderated by Jason Bloomberg, the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise and president of Intellyx, panelists peeled away the buzz and discuss the important architectural principles behind implementing IoT solutions for the enterprise. As remote IoT devices and sensors become increasingly intelligent, they become part of our distributed cloud enviro...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo 2016 in New York. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with 20th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry p...
"LinearHub provides smart video conferencing, which is the Roundee service, and we archive all the video conferences and we also provide the transcript," stated Sunghyuk Kim, CEO of LinearHub, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Things are changing so quickly in IoT that it would take a wizard to predict which ecosystem will gain the most traction. In order for IoT to reach its potential, smart devices must be able to work together. Today, there are a slew of interoperability standards being promoted by big names to make this happen: HomeKit, Brillo and Alljoyn. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Adam Justice, vice president and general manager of Grid Connect, will review what happens when smart devices don’t work togethe...
"There's a growing demand from users for things to be faster. When you think about all the transactions or interactions users will have with your product and everything that is between those transactions and interactions - what drives us at Catchpoint Systems is the idea to measure that and to analyze it," explained Leo Vasiliou, Director of Web Performance Engineering at Catchpoint Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York Ci...
The 20th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Containers, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal ...
Discover top technologies and tools all under one roof at April 24–28, 2017, at the Westin San Diego in San Diego, CA. Explore the Mobile Dev + Test and IoT Dev + Test Expo and enjoy all of these unique opportunities: The latest solutions, technologies, and tools in mobile or IoT software development and testing. Meet one-on-one with representatives from some of today's most innovative organizations
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Super Micro Computer, Inc., a global leader in Embedded and IoT solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Supermicro (NASDAQ: SMCI), the leading innovator in high-performance, high-efficiency server technology, is a premier provider of advanced server Building Block Solutions® for Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Hadoop/Big Data, HPC and E...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Linux Academy, the foremost online Linux and cloud training platform and community, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Linux Academy was founded on the belief that providing high-quality, in-depth training should be available at an affordable price. Industry leaders in quality training, provided services, and student certification passes, its goal is to c...
WebRTC is the future of browser-to-browser communications, and continues to make inroads into the traditional, difficult, plug-in web communications world. The 6th WebRTC Summit continues our tradition of delivering the latest and greatest presentations within the world of WebRTC. Topics include voice calling, video chat, P2P file sharing, and use cases that have already leveraged the power and convenience of WebRTC.
"Matrix is an ambitious open standard and implementation that's set up to break down the fragmentation problems that exist in IP messaging and VoIP communication," explained John Woolf, Technical Evangelist at Matrix, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
WebRTC sits at the intersection between VoIP and the Web. As such, it poses some interesting challenges for those developing services on top of it, but also for those who need to test and monitor these services. In his session at WebRTC Summit, Tsahi Levent-Levi, co-founder of testRTC, reviewed the various challenges posed by WebRTC when it comes to testing and monitoring and on ways to overcome them.
"A lot of times people will come to us and have a very diverse set of requirements or very customized need and we'll help them to implement it in a fashion that you can't just buy off of the shelf," explained Nick Rose, CTO of Enzu, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
DevOps is being widely accepted (if not fully adopted) as essential in enterprise IT. But as Enterprise DevOps gains maturity, expands scope, and increases velocity, the need for data-driven decisions across teams becomes more acute. DevOps teams in any modern business must wrangle the ‘digital exhaust’ from the delivery toolchain, "pervasive" and "cognitive" computing, APIs and services, mobile devices and applications, the Internet of Things, and now even blockchain. In this power panel at @...
Every successful software product evolves from an idea to an enterprise system. Notably, the same way is passed by the product owner's company. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Oleg Lola, CEO of MobiDev, will provide a generalized overview of the evolution of a software product, the product owner, the needs that arise at various stages of this process, and the value brought by a software development partner to the product owner as a response to these needs.