On Wednesday, Facebook announced that it was buying the international messaging service WhatsApp in a mind-boggling $19 billion deal. Though WhatsApp may not necessarily be on your radar, its stats are solid: The Internet messaging application is home to more than 450 million users (many of whom are outside the United States). WhatsApp costs nothing to download and, after a gratis first year, $1 per year to use for unlimited messaging to anyone else with the app. Even more rare: It’s ad-free.
Though Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promises that WhatsApp will continue to operate independently, and that the “product will remain unchanged,” you still might be afraid that Facebook could somehow ruin an otherwise wonderful service. Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram came with annoying twee advertisements in your feed, you might remember.
We’ll know in due time. But, while we wait, here are a few mostly free WhatsApp alternatives that aren’t owned by Facebook:
This app is great for keeping in touch with your many social circles. It’s like a private mobile chatroom that works on a wide range of devices, free of charge. It even allows those with SMS to join the conversation. So if someone in the group doesn’t have a 3G connection, she can still receive group messages for a small fee. It has a very extensive catalog of emoji and a tool that allows you to charge your friends money for something (if, say, they bought you a drink at a concert). It’s particularly helpful if you find yourself at a mixer or a convention and want to share the experience with other people there — or, you know, just gossip about other people with your close inner circle. Mostly, my friends and I just use it to send each other emoji stories.
Kik also allows you to cultivate your own mobile friend group chats, for free, on pretty much every device out there. What sets it apart, however, is an interface that allows you to easily browse the web and share links, photos, videos and games with your friends. It also has its own robust app store, for sharing applications within Kik itself.
Viber’s claim to fame is the ability to text, share multimedia and call whomever you want for free. It’s also built up a pretty comprehensive desktop app (to allow for easier video calls). Not to mention, its layout and in-app stickers are cutesy and fun, if you’re into that sort of thing. In essence it’s a good way to save money on a data plan for anyone in a long-distance relationship.
You probably know about the Microsoft-owned Skype, which is a desktop and mobile service that allows you to video chat and message people for free. It allows you to call people for free in your home country, and for as low as 1 cent a minute internationally, depending on the region. You may not have noticed this, but it also recently merged its contact address book with old MSN and Hotmail accounts, so you can now reach out to long-lost friends. Unlike WhatsApp, it gives you a little more control over who can contact you, asking you to approve anyone who’s reaching out before a call or message comes through.
Kakao, though very similar to the others on this list, is probably the most playful of the bunch. The Korean-based messaging app allows you to chat, call and share photos with your friends for free, worldwide. Its unique features include the ability to send voice notes, share your location and listen to music in a group chatroom. Kakao also provides ridiculously adorable animated “stickers” and themes that you can purchase to make your conversation more personalized. Yet another clever feature that other messaging apps don’t provide: the ability to poll everyone in a group chat on an issue in order to come to a decision quickly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wasted 30 minutes going back and forth with my friend circle about which day they’re free and when they can have dinner.
There you have it. Now you have an escape plan in case Facebook ruins a good thing.
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