Facebook-owned WhatsApp, the world’s most popular instant messaging platform, went dark on Monday along with Instagram and Messenger, locking out billions of users and highlighting the need for other options.
The app, which has about two billion monthly active users, went down for more than seven hours, a record, which Facebook engineers attributed to a problem with its domain name server. A DNS is the first step in reaching any site on the internet.
“At a minimum, the unprecedented length of the outage should be seen as an indication that the issue went beyond simply a DNS service outage,” Angelique Medina, director of product marketing at Cisco-owned market intelligence company ThousandEyes, said in its analysis of the problem.
“Something significant occurred that not only took down their internal DNS service, but also prevented a highly sophisticated network operations team supporting the most highly trafficked site on the internet from resolving the issue in short order.”
WhatsApp has exploded in popularity since it was founded in 2009 by former Yahoo employees Jan Koum and Brian Acton, thanks to its simple-to-use interface and ad-free service. Facebook bought the messaging app in 2014 for $19bn.
About 100 billion messages are sent by WhatsApp daily, and the platform has proven useful during the pandemic, allowing users to communicate with friends and family during movement restrictions. In the Middle East alone, the user base has grown from below 20 million a decade ago to more than 200 million today.
With its large size and reach, any interruption to WhatsApp will always cause problems. But it is not the only app to offer group chats and encrypted messaging.
WeChat, also known as Weixin and owned by China’s Tencent Holdings, is the third-most popular instant messaging app, with about 1.24 billion users, according to Statista. Its most notable feature is “Shake”, which prompts you to do exactly that: shake your phone and if someone else is also shaking theirs, you receive a notification and can start chatting. Tencent also touts WeChat’s security, and users can hold group calls with up to nine people.
Telegram, the messaging app by Russian developer Pavel Durov, who is now based in Dubai, is arguably the biggest beneficiary when WhatsApp encounters problems. When Facebook announced its sweeping reforms to WhatsApp’s privacy terms and conditions this year, users threatened to boycott it and flock to Telegram. When Facebook went down this week, the platform acquired 70m new users, Mr Durov, Telegram’s chief executive, said. Telegram says its biggest features include fast synching across all devices, unlimited size on groups and broadcasts, unlimited storage on the cloud and non-disclosure of data.
Microsoft-owned Skype has been in the game for 18 years now and was the go-to platform until the explosion of social media apps, including Zoom and Microsoft’s own sister platform, Teams. Nonetheless, Skype remains popular around the world, with about 300 million users of its free video calls.
Snapchat is renowned for its disappearing messages feature, which was eventually copied by other platforms, including Facebook. Its snappy way of sharing content has become a staple, along with its Lenses feature, which incorporates augmented reality into the experience. Users can also play games, and find out what’s happening elsewhere in the world with its Map feature.
Viber, owned by Japanese company Rakuten, is the second-most popular messaging app in Russia. It reported a 400 per cent increase in users in the Asia-Pacific last year; worldwide, it has almost 1.2 billion. It provides group video calls for up to 20 participants, group chats with up to 250 people and free international calls. Users can also join international public communities.
Keybase, owned by Zoom Technologies, uses public key cryptography − a process that uses two keys to keep data encryption and decryption secure – on its platform. Keybase allows users to connect to communities from other platforms, including Twitter and Reddit. For sensitive messages, or “secrets”, as Keybase calls them, you can set a timer to make them not only disappear, but explode.
What’s better than not being able to send messages because a service is down? Sending messages even when offline. That’s the proposition that Mexico-based Bridgefy is putting on the table – all you need is a Bluetooth connection. You can text people within 100 metres and the messages are encrypted, but only with other Bridgefy users.
Canadian-owned Kik is one of the simpler messaging apps on the market. What sets it apart is its bots: chat with them for anything from news and fashion tips to doing quizzes. You can even invite one of its bots into a group to play games with friends.
“Speak freely, say hello to privacy and share without insecurity” is the motto of American non-profit Signal Technology Foundation, earning it the attention of Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and ex-CIA employee-turned-whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Signal does not allow ads, affiliate marketing or advertisement tracking. It is not tied to any Big Tech company, and its developer relies on donations to keep the service going.
Discord, ranked third on CNBC’s 2021 Disrupter 50 list, encourages users to join communities, such as those devoted to gaming or the arts. It is one of the more colourful platforms in the messaging app world, and allows users to easily organise their own communities. In March, Microsoft offered $10bn to acquire the app, among “lots of offers” the company receives, Discord chief executive Jason Citron said at the time.
No list of communication platforms would be complete without Zoom. The California-based company rose to prominence during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when millions of people worldwide started working from home. Daily active users on the platform soared 335 per cent by the middle of 2020, according to the company, which hit its first $1bn in revenue in the second quarter of this year.