WhatsApp has launched a new feature called Channels that makes it much more like a social media app, the Meta-owned company announced. It allows accounts to send one-way broadcasts to followers in the form of “text, photos, videos, stickers and polls,” much as you can with an app like Twitter. Broadcasting accounts can decide who’s allowed to follow their channel, whether they want it to be discoverable and more. At the same time, “following a channel won’t reveal your phone number to the admin or other followers,” WhatsApp said.
Users can find channels in a new tab on the app called Updates. That area shows Status and channels you decide to follow, separate from chats with family, friends and group chats/communities. For creators who plan to use the feature, WhatsApp will eventually add payment services to monetize it.
Privacy is also key, the company said. A channel’s admin info isn’t shared and it only retains 30 days of history. Admins can also prevent followers from taking screenshots or forwarding messages. Channels aren’t end-to-end encrypted, but WhatsApp said it’s exploring the idea for non-profits, health organizations or other privacy-sensitive organizations.
Channels is more or less a copy of a similar feature on rival chat app Telegram of the same name. Earlier this year, Meta launched Broadcast Channels on Instagram, allowing creators to stream updates to their followers’ inboxes much as WhatsApp users will be able to do. The feature can be likened to a newsletter, and in fact, it may have been called Newsletter while still under development (or the latter could arrive later as a separate feature).
WhatsApp is evolving well beyond it’s original purpose as a simple messaging app. Meta recently added the ability to use one account on multiple devices, something that was not only impossible before, but potentially created a hassle when you changed phones. The company has also updated group chats, while adding polls, shopping and more.
The new feature is not launching widely, but starting with “leading global organizations and select organizations in Columbia and Singapore,” the company said. It’ll arrive to more countries and users down the road “in the coming months.”