Mobile messaging service WhatsApp announced this week that it has reached 700 million users, a stunning achievement after starting at zero six years ago, especially considering that Christianity took nearly 19 centuries to attract 600 million followers, Forbes said.
Most Americans over age 30 probably haven’t even heard of WhatsApp. It’s a wildly popular instant-messaging service, based in Silicon Valley but used most heavily in Europe, Asia and Latin America. WhatsApp’s founders, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, are a couple low-key engineers who don’t pretend to be prophets of anything. WhatsApp’s founders made headlines last year, when they sold their startup to Facebook for an eye-popping $19 billion, transforming themselves into multi-billionaires, the website said.
We may have entered a new age of techno-evangelism in which digital properties like WhatsApp can gain followers at a rate that puts the world’s major religions to shame, or may have quietly changed from a society in which carefully developed, lifelong commitments have given way to a flurry of casual associations that can be started or abandoned with almost no effort at all, Forbes said.
The hardships experienced by Christianity haven’t existed in any comparable form for the Internet-era’s most popular services, such as WhatsApp, or Facebook itself (1.35 billion active monthly users) or the Google Chrome browser (at least 1 billion users) Not only do governments tolerate their growth, but all sorts of social policies encourage computers, making it easy for adoption curves to keep climbing upward, the website said.
Technological advances make spreading the word faster and cheaper than ever. Christianity’s growth in the 18th and 19th century required enormous expenditures on missionaries, Bible printings and the like. Today, it’s possible for a popular Internet service to spread around the world with just a few clicks on a mobile phone. There’s no need for the costs and long waits associated with sending out face-to-face emissaries to find new users, according to Forbes.
Meanwhile, the world has become much more densely populated, thanks to agricultural and medical breakthroughs that have increased the planet’s carrying capacity. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 7.2 billion people are alive on earth today. That’s more than quadruple the 1.6 billion people of 1900. So when a site such as WhatsApp connects with 700 million people today, it’s reaching about 10% of the world’s population. Christianity’s 600 million adherents of 1910 represented a more impressive 35% of humanity, the website said.
Of course, the popularity that’s so easy to gain has also become much easier to lose. A few years ago, analysts estimated that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser enjoyed 1 billion users around the world. Today, with users having switched to Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or Apple Safari, Explorer’s active usage may have been cut in half, Forbes said.
Not everyone is pleased with the success of WhatsApp and other smartphone apps.
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported Thursday that WhatsApp, along with LINE and Tango, have been blocked by the country’s judiciary, according to i24news.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was opposed to cutting off access to the apps but he will not try to overturn the decision, according to the report. Rouhani has maintained he is in favor of filtering “illegal content” rather than blocking media altogether, and that the Internet is “an opportunity, not a threat”, i24 said.
Social networking and file-sharing sites such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have been blocked in the Islamic Republic, even though many young tech lovers use proxy servers, among other methods, to access those sites, the report said.