Are WhatsApp and Messenger competitors or partners in Facebook?

February 16, 2016

Two messaging services. Focused on consumers. Doing practically the same thing. Do they compete or cooperate under Facebook’s roof?

Messenger vs WhatsApp

Messenger and WhatsApp are the biggest messaging platforms toady. Messenger announced 800M monthly active users recently, while WhatsApp celebrated hitting the 1 billion mark. As they both strive to continue with this rapid growth, I have to question – are they joining forces or competing fiercely between themselves.

The reason I raise it stems with how they implemented web support and VoIP:

  • Messenger unbundled from Facebook, opening its own independent site, which acts as a full messenger client. If you want to make calls, you use WebRTC for that
  • WhatsApp created a web frontend tethered to the phone app. It cannot work without the phone nearby. And when it comes to VoIP, it might be using the same codecs as WebRTC, but not the vinyl implementation

They are taking different architectural approaches. But they end up implementing the same feature set.

WhatsApp in 2015

Here’s what WhatsApp did or was rumored to be working in the last year:

Messenger in 2015

Here’s what Messenger did in the last year:


Not much of a difference…

Running such a thing at scale of 100’s of millions of people is painfully hard. Doing that twice under the same roof is even harder:

  • It seems like they develop everything twice or separate infrastructure and architecture.
  • There’s no federation between the two – you can’t send a message from a Messenger user to a WhatsApp user – even though both belong to the same company

Where would each of these services go next for growth?

eMarketer messaging

The above slide from eMarketer shows how in some countries, the main competitor of WhatsApp is Facebook Messenger – and vice versa. I think each of them tries independently to raise his users base – with no real regard of the other’s footprint at any given location.


This one from Activate goes to show how growth for both these platforms come from the same areas – and where they overlap or compete on the same set of users.

Something doesn’t work out here for me, though it is hard to lay a finger on it.

WhatsApp is probably still a strange bird in Facebook, far from the rest of the company and its DNA. Getting it in line with Facebook will take considerably more time.


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  1. I think the key thing here is that FB & WA are used by slightly different groups of people, for slightly different sets of use-cases, even though there is a definite overlap/substitution.

    In particular, they cover 2 distinct address/identity spaces: FB name vs. phone number

    IME, Whatsapp tends to get used as a straight replacement/improvement for SMS and sometimes phone calls. It tends to be standalone, except for sending pictures or URLs. Facebook Messenger is more “social”, firstly used solely among friends, but also often where messaging is triggered by events, posts etc. It probably also has higher use on PCs.

    It makes no sense to federate these, I think. (Or for that matter Instagram, which has a whole separate address space & set of purposes)

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