Facebook has announced a stand-alone mobile app called Messenger. The new app allows users to send messages to friends or groups of people, positioning the company to compete more directly with traditional email and group-messaging services.
Note: Scroll down to see screenshots of the app
Facebook Messenger launches today and apps will be available for iPhone or Android. The new app allows users to send messages to their friends on Facebook, or by SMS to mobile phones. Users can send messages to one person or a group of people and attach photos and location data along with their message.
Messenger works just like the existing Facebook Messages, only it will be a separate application on mobile phones. Facebook says a large portion of its users send messages from the company’s iPhone and Android apps, as well as from Facebook’s mobile website, so it saw an opportunity to pull out a feature that is widely used and launch it as a stand-alone entity.
How it works
Users launch the application and can type messages to friends, similar to sending an email or the way current messages work on Facebook. The app pulls your friends list from Facebook, and you can also add mobile phone numbers and send to people who are not on Facebook. The app is designed to function like an instant message service so messages can be sent quickly and easily to anyone.
When someone replies to the message, everyone else receives a copy of the reply. If your recipient is not on Facebook, you can provide a mobile number and the message will be delivered as a text message. The recipient is notified who else is in the conversation, and in the event a recipient wishes to opt out of a conversation, he or she can simply reply “mute” and Facebook will stop sending replies.
Launching a stand-alone app
While group messaging is not new to Facebook, the strategy of pulling out one feature and launching it as a stand-alone app is a step in a new direction for the company. Facebook says Messenger was built from the ground up by the same people who developed Beluga, a company Facebook acquired in March. Messenger incorporates a lot of the learning and features from that company.
“At the end of the day, messaging is different than any other part of the Facebook mobile experience,” Peter Deng, Director of Product, said in a phone interview. “It’s one of those things you need really quick access to. “Messages are sent instantaneously and the app feels really fast. We’ve removed a bunch of clicks and made it a separate application for speed.”
Deng says Messenger was born from looking at Facebook data and seeing how people use its applications. “An astounding amount of Facebook messages are sent via Facebook mobile right now,” said Deng. “It was surprising to us to see how many people use iPhone, Android and [our mobile site] to send messages.”
Web-mobile integration & features
The mobile experience is heavily embedded into the Web experience, so whenever a message is sent via Messenger, it’s also added to the user’s Facebook Messages inbox. This allows users to have a single copy of conversations no matter what device they use.
Facebook says Messenger gives users added functionality above what traditional text messaging offers, letting anyone opt-out of a conversation that isn’t of interest.
Deng says Messenger can be especially useful when you’re planning an event and you need to quickly put together a conversation with people who are attending, be it a ski trip, a bachelor party or dinner at a restaurant.”Mobile messaging has been one-to-one traditionally,” said Deng. “But now you can attach a location with a message that will only be visible to people you send message to.
“Location data is pulled from GPS so recipients can view a map and see your location.With the launch of a separate messaging app, there are questions around how it could impact usage within Facebook’s existing app, but Deng said the company is not concerned.
“We expect people to use the Facebook app exactly how they’re using it today,” said Deng. “It’s the same system in the Facebook app but the separate app has a few extra features. The conversation between you and friends will be accessible everywhere you go and we don’t expect too big of a change in usage in the Facebook app.”
Deng said the company will continue to watch how people use its applications and iterate as it gets more feedback about what its users’ needs are.
“Right now, we focused on sending and receiving quickly and keeping the user interface simple and minimal,” said Deng. “We as Facebook just want to get out of the way.”
Messenger will launch on iPhone and Android in Canada and the United States today. Apps will be made available in other geographies in the coming weeks.