WhatsApp maps out a course of action

WhatsApp maps out a course of action

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WhatsApp released a Live Location, a feature lets users share their location in real time with select friends and groups.

Live Locations is only available for users for the time being, but the prospect of building out a broader map platform in WhatsApp — and then onboarding businesses to and serving ads within this hypothetical experience — is a clear revenue opportunity further down the line.  

To access Live Locations, users open up a chat, tap the attach button in the text box and, under “Location,” find the option to “Share Live Location,” select a preset time limit and hit send. Their real-time location will then be shared in a map-embedded message to everyone in that chat. Tapping on that message reveals a map that shows the locations of everyone sharing their location in that chat. Users can also toggle between Satellite/Terrain views of that map, and see live traffic data.

The feature will roll out to users in the coming weeks and infuses WhatsApp with new use cases that are pertinent to a chat app. Examples cited by WhatsApp itself include meeting up with friends, making sure someone is safe, and sharing a commute. Broadly speaking, baking in this feature to WhatsApp makes the app more sticky, and gives users one fewer reason to resort to other apps that incorporate location-sharing and mapping features, like Google MapsiMessage, and Snapchat.

Google Maps and Snapchat, in particular, provide a blueprint that WhatsApp could emulate to monetize Live Locations:

  • Map-based advertising. Google introduced local search ads, known as “Promoted Places” or “Promoted Pins” to its Maps platform last year. These ads let businesses stay at the top of the local search results and appear on the map with a different colored pin. And with 1 billion daily users, WhatsApp would throw up a sizable audience for advertisers.
  • Third-party integration. Snapchat’s recently unveiled “Context Cards,” which provide Yelp-like information about a business and the means to interact with it could also be taken as inspiration for WhatsApp. Integrating Live Locations with third-party businesses could allow WhatsApp to capitalize on both advertising and transaction fees. 

Live Locations also opens up new possibilities for content creation on WhatsApp, which could increase the stickiness of the app. The new feature could pave the way for new content formats on the messaging app. For example, it seems natural to tie WhatsApp Status, the app’s Stories clone, into Live Locations, much like how Snap Stories are shown in the Snap Map. Status had 250 million daily users as of July. Furthermore, it could provide a way to add live video broadcasts into WhatsApp. Live video is a feature that Facebook has been focused on recently, but it hasn’t arrived in WhatsApp yet.

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