WhatsApp maps out a course of action

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WhatsApp released a Live Location, a feature that lets users share their location in real time with select friends and groups.

Live Locations is only available for users for the time being, but the prospect of building out a broader map platform in WhatsApp — and onboarding businesses to and serving ads within this experience — is a clear revenue opportunity further down the line.  

To access Live Locations, users open up a chat, tap the attach button in the text box and, under “Location,” find the option to “Share Live Location,” select a preset time limit, and hit send. Their location will then be shared in real-time in a map-embedded message to everyone in the chat. Tapping on that message shows a map with the locations of everyone in the chat that’s sharing their location. Users can also toggle between Satellite/Terrain views of that map, and see live traffic data.

The feature will roll out to users in the coming weeks, and infuses WhatsApp with use cases that fit well for a chat app. Examples cited by WhatsApp itself include meeting up with friends, making sure someone is safe, and sharing a commute. Broadly speaking, baking in this feature to WhatsApp makes the app more sticky, and gives users one less reason to resort to other apps that incorporate location-sharing and mapping features, like Google Maps, iMessage, and Snapchat.

Google Maps and Snapchat, in particular, provide a blueprint that WhatsApp could emulate to monetize Live Locations:

  • Map-based advertising.Google introduced local search ads, known as “Promoted Places” or “Promoted Pins” to its Maps platform last year. These ads let businesses stay at the top of the local search results and appear on the map with a different colored pin. And with 1 billion daily users, WhatsApp would throw up a sizable audience for advertisers.
  • Third-party integration. Snapchat’s recently unveiled “Context Cards,” which provide Yelp-like information about a business and the means to interact with it, could also be taken as inspiration for WhatsApp. Integrating Live Locations with third-party businesses would allow WhatsApp to capitalize on both advertising and transaction fees. 

Live Locations also opens up new possibilities for content creation and pave the way for new content formats on WhatsApp. For example, it’s easy to envision an integration between WhatsApp Status (the app’s Stories clone) and Live Locations, much like how Snap Stories are shown in the Snap Map. Status had 250 million daily users as of July. Furthermore, it could provide a way to add live video broadcasts onto a WhatsApp map. Live video is a feature that Facebook has been focused on recently, but it hasn’t arrived in WhatsApp yet.

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