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Five clever things you can do with WhatsApp

More than two billion people use WhatsApp every month due to its simplicity and flexibility, yet many will not be aware of the host of hidden features.

The statistics on WhatsApp use are truly staggering with two billion users monthly who generate a colossal 100 billion messages daily (yes you read this correctly).

The highly used and popular app TikTok has recently come under siege because it’s association with the Chinese government and the possible risk of the Chinese government accessing TikTok’s mountain of data. The BBC and the UK Government have asked users to delete the app from their corporate devices for security purposes. This made me think about some of the technology apps I would not want to lose. Up there at the top of my list is the WhatsApp messaging app and I suspect I am not alone.

WhatsApp is owned by the internet giant Meta, which also owns Facebook and Facebook Messenger. Its popularity is linked to the fact it is free, works across different software platforms and is easy to use. However, like most software, scratch under the surface and there are some clever tricks available, and I will explore this further in this article.

Some may improve your productivity and there is always the feel-good factor in finding a way of making your life easier. The problem is that many of us have no idea what smart facilities are available from WhatsApp. Here is my top five.

Sending yourself a WhatsApp

Not many people seem to realise that you can send a WhatsApp message to yourself! Now you can use this as a reminder function, or this can be your shopping list. In fact, you can use it for whatever you find useful. I send WhatsApp messages to myself for a huge number of reasons, often to transfer information to another facility via WhatsApp web (see later) or to remind me to do something or collecting an interesting article. On my iPhone it is easy to find, on the chats screen click on new chats which is at the top right of the screen. Then look down and you should see your name and/or phone number with “you” in brackets after.

If you like this facility and from personal experience, it is a popular and useful facility then you might want to have it pinned to the top of your chat screen. This means that it is easily found as it is at the top of the pile of the chats all the time and does not move. This is easy to do for both Android and Apple.

Searching chats and individual chats

If you are a regular user of WhatsApp then you will have generated many numerous chat exchanges with numerous family and friends. Furthermore, you may have trails of chats with some or many people that are voluminous and go back years, so how do you find a specific piece of information that you need to locate?

One simple method is to mark the message with a star, on an iPhone long press the message and press “star”. This bookmarks the selected message and is kept under the starred messages section which can easily be found under settings.

However, this does not help you with search in either of all your messages or within a specific message individual or group. In the iPhone on the chats screen, simply pull down the chats and this will reveal the search box under the title of “Chats”. Type in your keyword and this will search all of your chats. If you want to search an individual chat or group then open that chat, click the name of the chat at the top and under their name on the right hand side is the search feature for that particular chat. All you have to do is type in your search word and that’s it.

Using your desktop or laptop for WhatsApp

Many people are not aware of the existence of a WhatsApp web app which can be downloaded as an app or simply work within a browser of a desktop computer. This duplicates the architecture of the app on your phone and they sync with each other so that what you see on your phone is nearly the same message set up as on your desktop. The phone and desktop are not identical but fairly similar.

A huge advantage for the desktop version is that you have a larger screen to read your messages and you can use a keyboard to type messages, if you prefer that to pecking away at the smaller virtual keyboard on the phone. I find it brilliantly useful and for typing long WhatsApp messages, I prefer the desktop version.

Live location finder

This is a brilliant add on to WhatsApp which has been around for a while. It allows you to track a person or allow them to find you for up to a maximum of eight hours. Crucially, you need the consent of the friend or family being tracked (they have to actively share), otherwise this could be a stalking issue. I find it useful if I am meeting someone and we exchange locating permissions or I am collecting a member of my family by car, I can share my live location and they can see my arrival time.

You can also share a static location where for example you have parked your car or where you want to meet. Simply open the chat of the person you wish to share your location and click the + button to the left of the chat box and follow the simple instructions.

Exporting chats

From time to time, collections of emails from high profile people such as politicians and celebrities have been released into the public domain when they are supposed to be confidential. The same fate has now happened to WhatsApp chats, but how do WhatsApp on your phone which are private become a collection which can be then be made publicly available? For example, the ex-health secretary Matt Hancock found that 100 000 of his WhatsApp Message collection from the time around the Covid-19 pandemic came into the public domain.

It is quite easy to export WhatsApp messages to a text file via email, however the export function of WhatsApp chats can be useful not just for leaking private messages. For example, you may want to preserve a WhatsApp chat for the same reasons you would want to preserve a series of emails. This could be for reference purposes or legal reasons.

WhatsApp is an incredibly useful and popular messaging facility that is embedded in many people’s everyday lives. I have chosen just five useful WhatsApp features, but there are many more.

Finally, I can’t resist adding in another useful feature; by adding an asterisk either side of a word in a WhatsApp message, this turns the word into bold.

Dr Harry Brown is a retired GP, Leeds


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