Facebook watch: there's got to be a way to keep the kids onboard

Andrew Leonard mulled over Facebook's insanely expensive purchase of WhatsApp ($16 billion) in his Salon column yesterday. Leonard believes it's another Instagram move where Zuck buys a service all the kids are using because the kids aren't using Facebook. WhatsApp provides "a way to send text messages over the Internet without paying SMS charges to the phone companies," says Leonard. Now users will pay those charges to Facebook by staying within the clutch of its eager advertisers. The Salon headline writer calls this business decision "scary bold desperation," possibly one of the greatest fudge-phrases ever written. Scary for investors, certainly.
How many times can Facebook keep buying the loyalty of younger users? Till it blows up. It would be ideal if this happens before Facebook becomes permanently institutionalized in the sense of "indispensable for employers and law enforcement" (and artists, and the net art community) which is the direction it's been heading at the same time the younger demographic is bailing.

Update: Other theories about the WhatsApp sale include beefed-up access to the European market and lower income users, and, possibly related to any of the above reasons (youth, Euro, and/or income), "whatsapp has a client that runs on shitty nokia phones" (hat tip Ryz). We're happy with whatever prompts the juggernaut to wild spending sprees -- the "youth angle" is the funniest.

Update 2: According to Sarah Lacy at Pando Daily, it's all about photos: "According to the company’s own numbers [always highly suspect if we're talking about Facebook's numbers --TM], WhatsApp is processing 500 million images per day, compared to 400 million Snapchat ('snaps') per day, which could include photos or videos. For its part, Facebook processes a comparatively paltry 350 million photos a day, with an additional 55 million per day from Instagram." The near-Turing-complete user who's been finding places to park photos online for over a decade without crawling to "social" has to laugh at the economics of all this.

Update 3: The WhatsApp sale has become a Rorschach blot for commenters. Lambert of Corrente sees it as: "Here's what's special about WhatsApp and mobile -- as opposed to browser-based -- apps generally [quoting an NBC article]: 'The messaging app offers its users unlimited messaging on mobile devices for 99 cents a year after a one-year free trial. ... When you download the app, WhatsApp automatically scans through your address book and connects you with those who have WhatsApp installed on their phones.' That's the value of the deal; mining that address book data," Lambert continues. "It's even better than an email address book, because a messaging app is more intimate; more likely to be friends and family."