I Installed WhatsApp Because I Love Mom

In these days of isolation because of the COVID-19 pandemic, even tech bloggers are more introspective and share personal stories or thoughts. Now it’s my turn.

At the end of March 2020 my mom was hospitalized for pneumonia, but unrelated to COVID-19 as she repeatedly tested negative.

It wasn’t clear whether she would make it. And I couldn’t visit her in locked down Italy. The only way to communicate with mom was through the WhatsApp video calls her doctors did.

My early experience with WhatsApp
For years I resisted re-installing WhatsApp.

I had already used WhatsApp and uninstalled it the day Facebook announced acquiring the product in February 2014. I have no technical issues with the app, I just don’t like Facebook the company.

WhatsApp’s settings screen on a Pixel 2 XL phone
WhatsApp’s settings screen on my Pixel 2 XL phone.

But installing WhatsApp was the only way to see and talk with mom at the hospital.

Everything went well and mom came back home after over a week at the hospital. Although I no longer needed WhatsApp to communicate with mom, I kept it installed on my phone (she can barely use a feature phone) and I’ll continue using it. Mom loves to do video calls with relatives and acquaintances all over Italy, especially in these days of strict isolation.

Using WhatsApp
WhatsApp didn’t change much since I last used it in 2014.

I noticed three things about the product and its popularity. First, everyone is on WhatsApp. Really. Every single relative, friend, acquaintance, business, the works.

In the messaging space, we’re stuck with WhatsApp.

The app’s sheer network effect is such a strong force any competitor or open standard can’t break it, no matter how large the tech companies or organizations backing it may be. There’s a lesson for Google, which did everything wrong in the messaging space. The same regulatory authorities who closely watch every Google step may want to take a closer look at WhatsApp monopoly, too.

Next, the web app’s major limitation is it keeps disconnecting from the phone. It’s a design flaw it shares with other account-less apps paired with a phone number through a QR code, such as Google Messages. A minor limitation is the web app doesn’t support video or audio calls.

Finally, my contacts generate less noise than I thought. With everyone on WhatsApp, I expected a constant flow of notifications and frequently updated conversation. But this is not the case.

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