Why Facebook Was Smart to Spend $16 Billion on WhatsApp

Facebook has had its fair share of stumbles trying to get a handle on how to take over your phone. I mean, remember Facebook Home? But with its $16 billion purchase of messaging app WhatApp, it's now poised to own the best way to chat on a smartphone and win the kiddies back all at once.

Facebook is founded on being a monolithic ever-presence. The kind of service that you can assume everyone else uses because duh. But Facebook has been slowly falling out of favor with the kids despite trying to catch up to Twitter's cachet with a endless Newsfeed tweaks, and trying to emulate all the hippest new services. Facebook Poke, anyone?

None of that has worked to bring Facebook back to its pre-mobile glory days when it was a site with an ever-growing user-base of teens posting illicit photos of their beer-parties. Instead, it evolved into a place for viral linkbait listicles, engagement statuses, and far more baby photos than users under 30. With WhatsApp in its corner now, Facebook can stop trying—and failing—to rekindle that old fire; it just bought a new one.

$16 billion dollars is a lot of money, but you can't underestimate what WhatsApp is, what it has, and what it represents. WhatsApp has some 450 million monthly users (to Twitter's 215 million, for context) and the majority of them use the app every day. That's almost half as many people as the behemoth Facebook itself, and all of them are about to become Facebook users if they weren't already. Between the two services, that's basically everybody.

It's the ones who weren't already Facebookin' who are the real get. Many are so young that they've never known Facebook to be cool, and they're also spread across the globe; WhatsApp has plenty of users in the States, sure, but out there in the rest of the world it's even bigger, even rivaling SMS in its ubiquity. That's a lot of people—desirable users—who just turned into Facebook people like it or not.

But it's not just the users. WhatsApp is a solid service. Clean, cross-platform, dead simple to use, and so good at what it does that it can even get away with charging a (very modest) yearly fee. If there's one tech trend that has never gone out of style, it's textual messaging. From AIM to SMS, there's been generation after generation of popular snippet-of-text sending technology, and generation after generation of new initiates picking out a defacto chat channel for the first time. And now Facebook is holding the keys to the best car in the showroom.

If there's one absurdly simple thing that our phones can't do perfectly yet, it's stupid easy messaging with a totally ubiquitous service that already has everyone you'll ever know and works on all your devices. We're talking talking One True Client. Whoever can lock that up is going to be have control of the single most important part of a phone and all the people who use that feature. That's worth at least $16 billion if you make it all yours.