Our smartphones have officially made it a pain to talk to one another. Many of us spend our days hopping between messaging apps, from iMessage to WhatsApp to Facebook Messenger to Instagram and back again, carrying on fractured conversations with the same set of people across a number of platforms.
But many of those services are owned by a single company: Facebook. WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram collectively reach more than 2 billion people, making Facebook the owner of the world’s largest messaging platform — and a potential gold mine.
Facebook knows this, and sensing the opportunity to completely own modern messaging, reportedly plans to unify those messaging services into a single, connected platform. This would bring an obvious benefit to users — convenience — but I’m not convinced that merging these platforms is really about users’ needs at all. In all likelihood, this is about Facebook knowing more about its users, regardless of where they’re chatting, for the sake of its ad business.
You could imagine Facebook’s products today as a series of silos. Instagram and WhatsApp have their own databases and identity layers separate from the core social network. Users must create a login for each distinct network, which creates a fresh “identity” in the respective app’s database–even if a user logs in to Instagram using the Facebook login feature, because each service uses its own separate database infrastructure. In other words, all of these platforms are effectively distinct from one another despite sharing some common functionality.
The problem with this is obvious: It’s difficult for Facebook to get a complete picture of your habits, who you talk to, and what you’re talking about. Facebook does correlate some data between the services — like phone numbers — but they remain largely siloed from one another.
That’s a problem for Facebook, because the company relies on advertising for…