WhatsApp’s success lies in its registration process, not its messaging prowess.
Much has been said about the features that were key to WhatsApp’s growth, which include simplicity, focus on one product, device coverage, and of course, luck and timing.
That all may be true, and certainly might explain how it outpaced its competitors in the OTT messaging space, many of whom indulged in some or all of the activities which WhatsApp dismissed as strictly non-core. But it doesn’t explain how WhatsApp’s extraordinary growth managed to dwarf that of the other great social products of our time, such as Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and Skype. Much less how it accumulated more active users in its first four years than all of those networks combined did in their initial period.
The fundamental enabler of this explosive and sustained growth — over a million new users per day — is a dead-simple user registration process built around Mobile Identity.
The Phone Number as an Identifier
For many of us it has been a long time since we registered for WhatsApp, but the process is so disarmingly simple that you would likely forget it anyway. Unlike Facebook, which collects a trove of personal information that takes time to enter, or Twitter, which requires you to switch applications to verify your email address, WhatsApp requires only one piece of information – your phone number.
WhatsApp then instantly sends you a simple numeric code, either in an SMS or an automated voice call, to the number you provided. Enter this code on the registration form, and it is instantly validated (you don’t even have to click “Submit”). You can then connect immediately with any other WhatsApp users in your address book. This process is the absolute gold standard for best practice in mobile app user registration, and a model I see being adopted in apps of almost any kind.
It’s also extremely powerful. The WhatsApp contacts list can be thought of as a filtered version of the handset’s own address book, which shows only those contacts whose Mobile Identity has been verified. No need to remember complex email addresses or clever usernames – it uses the unique identifier which the majority of the planet is already accustomed to using – your phone number.
One more point. Along with slick registration and use of an ID which everyone already possesses, it would be remiss to ignore the fact that Whatapp’s growth was entirely viral. Here again, they used Mobile Identity to outpace services like Facebook and Gmail, whose impressive viral growth was largely built through email.
WhatsApp makes it effortless to invite a new user to download the app, because it sends an SMS directly to your contact. And because this SMS comes from your verified Mobile Identity, the “from” field is instantly recognizable as trusted by your contact. They only have to follow the same simple registration process that you did, and they can be chatting away with you via the app in minutes. It is hard to imagine a more perfect distribution system.
The majority of the conversation in recent days has been about messaging. A feature which any major Internet player needs in order to have a meaningful presence (whatever the cost, apparently). But don’t overlook the fact that a large part of that value lies in their Mobile Identity model, which was built using a streamlined registration process, one which brands and enterprises can easily adopt today.