in multi-tenanting, Network Effects, Privacy, Signal, WhatsApp


One of the anti-patterns that can really bring down digital and tech businesses is multi-tenanting. Some others call it multi-homing.

Multi-homing comes from network theory so it goes to the background coming from network theory.

We experience examples of multi-tenanting in our everyday lives and I’ll use a personal and recent example.

For many years, I’ve used WhatsApp chat and groups to stay in touch with university friends all around the world. I’ve never liked using WhatsApp personally primarily because I dislike the user interface and user experience, but because my friends were (are) on there, I subscribe to the where the conversations were happening.

You probably already know where I’m going with this.

In recent days, and the introduction of new privacy policy that seemed to expand data-sharing with WhatsApp parent company drove people to “vote with their feet” and consider alternatives.

I haven’t read the new user agreement and reviewed the privacy concerns myself, but even the hint of concern pushed people off-platform. I certainly did — and after many years on WhatsApp, there was enough escape-velocity that pushed all of the members on my one university chat group to move to Signal (their perceived better competitor).

And it took about less than a day.

After all, there was no real friction to move off of WhatsApp. I mean, there was prior to it, but the perceived cost of staying on WhatsApp was not greater than the cost of downloading the app, setting up a new chat group and get people to start talking over there.

What makes it even more interesting is that there is no real cost to keeping both apps on my devices, be it phones or computers. The mobile experience on iOS or Android bundles apps together and personal communications apps in particular really provide most of their value in the notification and exchange of data aspects. Said another way, I don’t have any particular affinity or affection for needing WhatsApp on my phone over any other communications app, just as long as I can chat with the people I want to on it.

I happen to have groups that still (so far) want to remain on WhatsApp. So I have both chat apps on my phone and there are no downsides to having both (or more) on my devices. I also have sizeable groups communicating through iMessage.

As evidenced by WhatsApp response to delay the update likely because there was a big migration of clients to other personal communications apps, it shows that simple personal communications apps like WhatsApp have weak network effects and is prone to multi-tenanting.