Breakthrough with Prof. MK Othman: Recognizing the Second Generation Inventors III

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BreaReaders may recall that my article of 1st December 2017 with caption “Recognizing the Second Generation Inventors II” ended with a question “How was the Facebook Invented?” This was after a brief introduction of Mark Zuckerberg as the inventor of “Facebook” when and how it became popular. As a Today, there is no doubt that Facebook became the bedrock of social media, which facilitates the development of online social networks by connecting a user’s profile with those of other individuals or groups. Similarly,Facebook allows the creation and sharing of information, ideas, career interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks. Mark Zuckerberg, this globally unanimously accepted inventor of Facebook   made the giant breakthrough at the age of 19 in 2004. He started using Facebook with his college roommate and fellow Harvard University students for communication social interaction among themselves. The website’s membership was initially limited by the founders to Harvard students, but was later expanded to other colleges in the Boston area, the Ivy League, and gradually reached out to most universities in the United States and Canada corporations.
Read Recognising the Second Generation Inventors I
As quickly as wildfire, Facebook became the fasted invention adopted and used by the World Population. According to Wikipedia, the users reached over a billion people by 2012. Facebook started as a computer program called Coursematch where students could list what classes they were taking. It was a tool, which the students were using to share whatever they wanted with other people around them. That was how the first version of Facebook was invented. At the beginning there were many hesitations, “Oh Facebook is just for young people, some people are using it, but it will never make any money.” Or, “Oh it works in the USA but it is not going to work around the world.” Or, “Oh it works but it is not going to work on mobile, etc. ”Facebook marched on to become multi-billion US Dollars invention with over two billion users, second to the Internet with astonishing efficiency in connecting individuals, groups, societies and providing opportunity to everyone voice his/her opinion.

Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook made Zuckerberg to be the youngest celebrant and multi-billionaire within a span of five years. In 2010, Time magazine, an Internationally refutable news magazine named Zuckerberg among the 100 wealthiest and most influential people in the world in the magazine’s special edition of Man of the Year award, 2010. On December 1, 2015, Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan announced their donation of 99 percent of their Facebook shares (worth about US$45 billion at the time) to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The Initiative was a philanthropic Foundation aim to “advance human potential and promote equality in areas such as health, education, scientific research and energy”. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative invested $24 million in Andela for its first major initiative. Andela is a startup focused on training software developers in Africa through their boot camp and four-year fellowship program, during which they pair their trainees with U.S. companies needing development help. In December 2016, Zuckerberg was ranked the 10th  in “The World’s Most Powerful People” on Forbes list. In the list, he was ranked as the fifth richest person in the world. Currently, Zuckerberg’s net worth was estimated to be US $74.2 billion as of November this year (2017). Today, Zuckerberg is rated among the most successful personalities but he is not without challenges. Three of Zuckerberg’s former Harvard classmates accused him of stealing their ideas to invent the Facebook. A fourth classmate filed a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, where he claimed he was the first to create an online Facebook and as such should have been awarded with the credit. Well, that is so much about Facebook as a major indicator of the digital age.
Read Recognising the Second Generation Inventors II
The next notable invention of the second generation is “WhatsApp”, who invented it? WhatsApp is another popular social media platform as robust and efficient as Facebook but uniquely different. WhatsApp Messenger is a free software and cross-platform instant messaging and Voice over service. The application allows the sending of text messages and voice calls, as well as video calls, images and other media, documents and user location. The service uses standard cellular mobile numbers and the application runs from a mobile device, but can also be accessible from desktop computers. Brian Acton and Jan Koum invented WhatsApp, which they incorporated in 2009. They were both former employees of Yahoo. After Koum and Acton left the services of Yahoo, they both traveled to South America to “recuperate” or cool-off in a sort of vacation. After the break, they applied for jobs at Facebook but were rejected. Koum was drifting and already eating into his $400,000 in savings from Yahoo. Then in January 2009, he bought an iPhone and realized that the seven-month old App Store was about to spawn a whole new industry of apps. Koum had a slight idea of developing communication app similar to Facebook without adverts as he distaste it but was not sure of how. Koum played with different computer programs to develop the App which he named “WhatsApp” to sound like “what’s up”. After relatively a fair success, he incorporated WhatsApp Inc. in California on February 24, 2009. However, because early versions of WhatsApp often crashed or got stuck at a particular point, Koum felt like giving up and looking for a new job, upon which Acton encouraged him to wait for a “more trials, perfections in few months”. The app hadn’t even been written yet. Koum spent days creating the backend code to synch his app with any phone number in the world. At some point it sort of became instant messaging, as reported by Fishman, a fellow American Russian. “We started using it, as ‘Hey how are you?’ And then someone would reply.
Brian Acton and Jan Koum

Jan watched the changing statuses on a Mac Mini at his town house in Santa Clara, and realized he’d inadvertently created a messaging service. WhatsApp was finally developed and perfected “Being able to reach somebody half way across the world instantly, on a device that is always with you, was powerful,” says exulted Koum after the eventual breakthrough.
It was a perfect App because the only other free texting service around at the time was BlackBerry’s BBM, which worked only among the “BlackBerries”. There was Google’s G-Talk and Skype, but WhatsApp was unique in that the login was user’s personal GSM phone number. Koum released WhatsApp 2.0 with a messaging component and watched his active users suddenly swelled to 250,000. He went to Acton, who was still unemployed and dabbling in another startup idea that wasn’t going anywhere. They both teamed up and perfected the WhatsApp app itself that offers instant messaging without the fees that carriers often charge and does not show ads. In the few years that followed, WhatsApp expanded to gain up to 450 million users within USA and overseas.
The successful outing of WhatsApp made it an irresistible and attractive bride to Facebook who earlier denied the inventors gainful employment. In 2014, Facebook eventually purchased WhatsApp for a princely price of $12 billion in stock and $4 billion in cash. In addition, Facebook set aside another $3 billion in restricted stock units to be granted to WhatsApp’s founders and employees that will invest over the next four years. WhatsApp calls itself “a personal real-time messaging network allowing millions of people around the world to stay connected with their friends and family.” During the $19 business transaction between Facebook and WhatsApp, it was apparent that WhatsApp was on a path to connect 1 billion people globally. The Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was quoted thus, “The services that reach that milestone (of connecting 1 billion people) are all incredibly valuable. I’ve known Jan for a long time and I’m excited to partner with him and his team to make the world more open and connected.” The marriage of convenience between Facebook and WhatsApp took the global communication system to the zenith, can there be further improvement? Where are we heading to? Time will tell.
Professor Othman is the Executive Director of National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria.

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