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How WhatsApp can be a potent tool for India’s digital empowerment!

With a staggering 96% penetration on smartphones in India, WhatsApp can be utilised for much more than just messaging!

Report: WhatsApp is running on 96% of Indian smartphones.
Report: WhatsApp is running on 96% of Indian smartphones.

I have always wondered if I should answer ‘WhatsApp’ when asked “What is your favorite product?” in product managerial interviews. Because the immediate follow-up question is “How would you improve it?” and being a power user of WhatsApp, it feels so complete and it seems like bringing improvements would be tough. And hence I tend to go with a more safer option.

But no matter what I answer, WhatsApp is undoubtedly one of the most used products in India. With a staggering 96% penetration on smartphones, it is now being used by people from all walks of life. It recently reached 200 million Daily Active Users in India, far ahead of its home market of USA. The number of internet users is supposed to reach 730 million by 2020 with rural India forming a large chunk of it. Most of these first time users are going to experience internet through a smartphone and WhatsApp is going to be one of the first apps they will be installing!

Considering this massive opportunity that WhatsApp has, it can practically dictate the rules of personal messaging but more importantly, it can empower urban and rural India in many exciting ways.

Safety & Security Upgrade

For long, the safety feature of choice on a smartphone has been an app which send an SOS alert to a few emergency contacts with a location link. With WhatsApp having your location information, this can be taken a notch higher. Since WhatsApp has your location data and Google maps data, it can trigger an SOS alert on tap of a button to your emergency contacts and the nearest Police station with your name, phone number & location data and they can take it from there. This can be made a lot easier with some combination of the volume keys to trigger the alert without even switching on the screen.

Alerting the nearby police station can be of great significance in both urban and rural areas. Crimes, specially against women, should decrease significantly because of being aware of the fact that most people use WhatsApp.

Quicker Digital Service Adoptions

The Modi Government has launched a flurry of apps in its tenure catering to a range of problems for both the urban and rural India, like RTI India App, mKisan App, etc. to name a few. However, considering the penetration of WhatsApp, the adoption of these services could have been much better if natively integrated with WhatsApp. People might not go ahead and download a new app but might update WhatsApp if notified about a good service.

Freecharge tried to enable smoother payments and transactions with a non-native WhatsApp integration. But digital services, specially in rural India, can have a robust adoption rate when integrated with WhatsApp. But this would be tough to execute given the level of governmental intervention needed.

Citizen engagement

The general populace has a very low influence over the decisions taken by the government. And there exists no easy way to report wrongdoings, issues or suggestions which affect the lives of a large section of the population. And the channels for voicing our opinions be it mainstream social media, Change.org, etc. is seriously limited in its reach and hence, its effectiveness.

WhatsApp, with its massive reach, can provide such a platform for people to voice their opinions, get issues addressed and thus influence the governance in a big way through a national WhatsApp Feed, a news-feed type structure, similar to a twitter feed. Anyone can post using appropriate tags and others can upvote if that resonates with them. If a particular post reaches beyond a specific number of upvotes, it should be addressed by the relevant government body.

Government can use the national feed to notify people of important policy changes amongst other things as well.

Considering the sheer number of people who will be using WhatsApp daily by 2020, this would probably be the first step towards a futuristic democracy!

Empowering Small Businesses

WhatsApp is already working hard towards WhatsApp for Business in which they plan to make it easier for small businesses to engage and interact with their customers and grow their customer base. It will also enable them to manage their orders easily.

Enhancing Communication

Conference Calls

With WhatsApp calls on the rise, people are moving towards a more pocket friendly way of communicating with each other and it has also significantly improved its connectivity over 2G networks making this feature more usable in rural areas. However, calls between a group of friends or colleagues are still done the old way using traditional conference calls. This can be replaced by WhatsApp group conference call.

We all are part of various WhatsApp groups, be it a friends group, a family group, an organisational team group, etc. which helps us communicate effectively with multiple people and engage in discussions. And many a times, we feel the need to engage in a real-time group conversation, both in a personal and professional scenario. It would be amazing if I can tap a button and a call goes to everyone in the group with an option to join or reject, a use-case Google Hangouts has handled amazingly for a professional setting. But with everyone on WhatsApp and groups already present, people would quickly move to WhatsApp for such a use-case.

Joining a group using QR code

There exist many communities we are linked to in our daily lives. In rural areas, a community can be thought of as an entire village whereas in an urban setup, a community can be a group of people living in a society, sharing a common interest, interested in an event, etc. Many of us currently interact with these communities daily through WhatsApp but there exists a barrier when getting into these.

Usually, you have to physically ask someone to add you opposed to the philosophy of join requests on Facebook. And hence, for the communities like the ones talked about, there should be an easier way to get into like scanning a QR code and getting your request approved.

Nearby Friends

WhatsApp can also drive much meaningful real-life conversations by porting the Nearby Friends feature from Facebook.

High quality media sharing

There are times when you are out on a trip with some friends and have captured some great photos to later save and share on social media. But chances are that you already have a WhatsApp group created for this trip and because of our natural tendency to share stuff through WhatsApp, it would be so much easier if you can just share those high quality photos on that particular WhatsApp group. As much as you would like that to happen, WhatsApp currently downgrades the quality of the media you share. Sharing high quality media content among friends is a tedious task which is a primarily urban use-case WhatsApp can address.

So, coming back to the initial dilemma, now I think there are many exciting experiences that WhatsApp can create to make communication better and help its community evolve digitally, specially here in India.

And they are just getting started towards a much bigger vision!

This article first appeared here.

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