Meta’s WhatsApp is taking a new approach to messaging.
The company on Thursday (June 8) announced the debut of Channels, a new way to get updates from people and organizations that is itself part of a new “Updates” tab, separate from users’ chats from family, friends and groups.
“Channels are a one-way broadcast tool for admins to send text, photos, videos, stickers, and polls,” WhatsApp said on its blog.
“To help you select channels to follow, we’re building a searchable directory where you can find your hobbies, sports teams, updates from local officials, and more. You can also get to a channel from invite links sent in chats, e-mail, or posted online.”
The service, which will launch first in Singapore and Columbia, is privacy-focused, the company said. Channel administrator phone numbers and profile photos won’t be revealed to followers, and followers phone numbers will be blocked from admins and other followers.
“Similar to how we build messaging, we don’t believe Channel updates should have to stick around forever,” the company said. “So we’ll only store channel history on our servers for up to 30 days and we’ll add ways to make updates disappear even faster from follower’s devices. Admins will also have the option to block screenshots and forwards from their channel.”
Admins will get the ability to decide who can follow their channel and how discoverable it is, though channels will not be automatically decrypted, as the aim is to reach a wide audience.
“We do think there are some cases where end-to-end encrypted channels to a limited audience might make sense, such as a non profit or health organization, and we’re exploring this as a future option as well,” the company said.
The announcement follows news from last month that Meta was working on a text-based Twitter competitor that will work closely with its Instagram app.
While Meta did not comment on the reports, the news site MoneyControl had reported in March that the company was working on a text-based content app to support ActivityPub, the social networking protocol that powers Twitter rival Mastodon.
Meta later responded to that report, saying, “We’re exploring a standalone decentralized social network for sharing text updates. We believe there’s an opportunity for a separate space where creators and public figures can share timely updates about their interests.”
WhatsApp’s roll-out of Channels in Singapore is part of a series of product launches in that country. Last month, the platform teamed up with Vonage on a partnership that allows users to make WhatsApp-based payments.
The company is also working with Stripe to help businesses in Singapore accept payments in WhatsApp chats without needing to visit another website, open an app or pay in person.