People in Brazil are paying $3 a month to join WhatsApp groups

A few days ago my colleague Márcio Kikuti shared a piece of news from Medium that Eden Wiedemann had written. The story, written in Portuguese, talks about the discovery that in Brazil some wise guys are making thousands of dollars a month from people who are willing to pay in order to be part of thematic WhatsApp groups. As you probably know, WhatsApp is similar to Facebook messenger and was fully acquired by Facebook back in 2014 for almost $20B. WhatsApp is currently the dominant messaging app in Brazil where people fondly call it “ZapZap.”

After reading the headline you probably think it must be some sort of scam, but it isn’t. People are making direct deposits to WhatsApp’s group owners in order to get in. Those owners create, curate and maintain dozens of groups packed with users. And the use cases are very surprising.

In one group, users claim they can get real-time information about traffic and that the information is “way better than Waze!”. Wait, what!? Instead of relying on free and accurate algorithmic information, some people just prefer to post and listen to informal voice messages about the traffic conditions and events. “Car spun near the perimeter, slow traffic, all tracks stopped, but there is a shortcut right off the churrascaria,” says one of them. Yes, this sounds like truck drivers communication over radio.

Most of the other use cases are related to content that the “curators” scrape from the internet regardless of being copyrighted. One of the “curators”, known as “Galego”, used to sell pirated CDs and says that

“people are paying for simplification. They want to be able to consume content with a better experience and less effort. It’s hard to find out about new songs, funny stuff and videos and it’s great to have cool stuff available at your fingertips to share with friends.”

And people are willing to pay as much as $3 a month in order to access those channels. As a reference, WhatsApp itself used to charge users $1 a year for their service. So, while WhatsApp itself isn’t still bringing any profit to Facebook, some people are profiting from it through very simple, but effective, tactics. No API required.

People see a lot of value in content curation especially when in tune with the overall user experience. As the quantity of available content keeps growing at exponential rates, curation will become so critical that entire business models will emerge and profit from it. My bet is that algorithmic curation alone will, despite improving quickly, continue to lose to pure human curation. The balanced intersection of machine and people curation will probably continue to be the winner for at least a decade.

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