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What is WhatsApp? Everything you need to know about Facebook's new toy

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You may not have heard of Facebook’s most recent purchase, but it’s a mobile messaging app on the rise. You’re going to keep hearing about it now: WhatsApp is now part of the Facebook app family, joining Instagram as an established startup acquired by the social media giant.

Here’s what you need to know about Facebook’s newest acquisition.

What does WhatsApp do?

WhatsApp offers unlimited global messaging for 99 cents a year. It’s a legitimately awesome communication tool (just ask anyone who has ever been an expat or immigrant). It’s a mobile app that describes itself as “cross-platform:" Unlike a product like iMessage, you can get the same experience talking to someone with a totally different operating system. It works on iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone, and Nokia.

In a sentence, WhatsApp makes messaging cheap and easy. In another sentence, it’s the Skype of text messages.

WhatsApp isn’t a unique flower. It has plenty of competitors, mostly Asian-made, like Kakoa and WeChat. But WhatsApp is one of the more streamlined and easy-to-use offerings. And Mark Zuckerberg isn’t “thought partners” with their leaders (that’s how he referred to Koum today).

OK, so who figured out how to make global messaging happen?

WhatsApp was founded in 2009 by Brian Acton and Jan Koum, two former Yahoo employees. These men are now billionaires thanks to today’s Facebook deal. Forbes estimates that Koum is now worth $6.8 billion and Acton is worth at least $3 billion post acquisition. WhatsApp is based in Mountain View, Calif., and the team will likely stay there, since Facebook and WhatsApp have stressed that this purchase won’t affect the team’s independence. The company employs just 55 people, meaning each person just got a crazy-good deal from this buyout.

And who uses WhatsApp?

As Mark Zuckerberg noted during the investor’s call about this massive purchase today, WhatsApp isn’t as popular in the U.S. as it is in Europe and Latin America, so it’s not as much of a household name as it should be.

WhatsApp reported over 400 million active monthly users in December 2013, and Facebook puts that figure around 450 million now. So there’s a whole lot of people on WhatsApp, and they use it frequently. 70 percent of those users check the app at least once daily. There are over 1 million new users registered each day, and the rate that people are messaging each other is astounding: 27 billion messages a day, at least.

So is this a good deal for Facebook?

Yep. $19 billion seems like an insane figure, but WhatsApp’s growth has been remarkable. And even though investors don’t seem to agree (Facebook stock fell after the announcement), WhatsApp is going to be a cornerstone in Facebook’s strategy to become a mobile company peddling standalone apps. 

What should WhatsApp users be expecting?

Per WhatsApp's blog post following the announcement: 

Here’s what will change for you, our users: nothing.

WhatsApp will remain autonomous and operate independently. You can continue to enjoy the service for a nominal fee. You can continue to use WhatsApp no matter where in the world you are, or what smartphone you’re using. And you can still count on absolutely no ads interrupting your communication. There would have been no partnership between our two companies if we had to compromise on the core principles that will always define our company, our vision and our product.

Questions remain over who owns the data WhatsApp trasmits do remain; actually, Facebook owns it—the real question is which company will store it. Will Facebook be in charge of holding onto photos and texts sent using WhatsApp? And what about photos users have sent over the amount of time they've been using it; are those now stored in a Facebook server somewhere? We've reached out for comment and will update with any new information. 

Photo via Flickr/Abul Hussain