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October 26, 2022

WhatsApp outage leads analysts to ask: Should we rely globally on a centralised application?

Some are calling the WhatsApp outage a consequence of the global usage of a centralised app. Is the world ready to turn decentralised? Analysts disagree.

By Claudia Glover

Global messaging app WhatsApp suffered an outage yesterday, its second in just over a year. Some analysts have noted that issues such as these highlight weaknesses in centralised apps, suggesting the decentralised model may be more resilient for global messaging apps like WhatsApp. However, while decentralised applications may provide an answer, most companies are not ready to adopt blockchain technology as a central part of their business, explain researchers.

whatsapp decentralised application
WhatsApp outage shows the world may need to pivot to decentralised applications for reliability of service. (Photo by guteksk7/Shutterstock)

Yesterday morning at about 09:00 UTC WhatsApp users all over the world started to report their inability to access WhatsApp. According to analytics site Down Detector, more than 12,000 reports were registered within half an hour. Users are still now reporting issues, however the rate has slowed dramatically. 

WhatsApp is the third most used messenger platform after Facebook and YouTube, currently standing at two billion users, according to figures from social analysis app Hootsuite.

This is WhatsApp’s second outage in just over a year. In October 2021 the Meta-owned messenger app went down. Lasting for a much longer six hours, even some economies felt the fallout from the outage. Brazil has 34.7 million workers in the informal economy. When none of them could access WhatsApp during last year’s outage, many lost out on over 48 hours of work.

Is a decentralised messaging app the answer?

Some analysts have suggested that this unreliability is due to the size of the app, as well as it being centralised. “Meta’s WhatsApp is a client-server set-up and its servers handle billions of encrypted messages per day,” explains Chris Hauk, consumer privacy advocate at Pixel Privacy. “If one or more of the servers have issues, this can affect a large number of users in various regions of the world,” he explains.

This level of dependency has led some to suggest that moving towards using decentralised messaging apps may be safer. Amandine La Pape, co-founded of Element explains: “The ongoing outage of WhatsApp highlights that global outages are one of the major downsides of a centralised system. Decentralised systems are far more reliable. There’s no single point of failure, so they can withstand significant disruption and still keep people and businesses communicating.”

This is one of the reasons, she suggests, that users are turning to the Matrix network, “particularly for mission-critical operations”. Matrix is a decentralised messaging app that passed the 60 million user mark in July,

However, simply pivoting to a decentralised messaging app may not be the perfect remedy as many aren’t ready, notes Sebastian Menge, co-founder of blockchain-based health application Fit Burn. “Many companies find it difficult to rely on fairly new technology. Decentralisation is good but not everyone wants to change to a solution like Blockchain technology.”

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But he recognises that it would work better overall. “Of course, a decentralised messaging app would be more stable,” he explains, “In general, I think that blockchain technology is a safe and worthwhile innovation for WhatsApp and that the company is already working on solutions behind closed doors.”

However, the point where users feel comfortable using blockchain technologies is still far off. “Many companies find it difficult to rely on fairly new technology. That’s the reason to stay centralised,” concluded Menge.

Read more: Meta looks to emulate WeChat with WhatsApp Business premium plan

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