Social Networking

Facebook Mixes Up Mobile Messaging

Facebook is ditching the private messaging function in its main mobile application in favor of having the entire messaging experience take place inside the dedicated Messenger app.

The company launched the dedicated messaging app on iOS and Android in 2011, and later debuted it on Windows Phone.

Facebook redesigned the app in November, with a focus on aiding those who want to be reachable at all times. The company made the app faster, mobile focused, and easier to contact friends and important contacts.

Users get replies 20 percent faster through Messenger than on Facebook, said Facebook spokesperson Arielle Aryah.

It makes sense for Facebook to focus its resources on the fast, reliable messaging experience through Messenger, she told TechNewsWorld.

Europe First

Facebook has started to notify users in some European countries that they no longer will be able to send messages through the main Facebook app, and urging them to download Messenger. They will need to do so within the next couple of weeks. There’s no announced timeline for a rollout in other regions as yet.

Those with an older or underpowered Android device with a version of Android too old to run Messenger, mobile Web users, and those who use Facebook’s recently launched news app Paper will not be forced to use Messenger for now. There is no version of Messenger for tablets as yet.

Those who already have Messenger installed cannot exchange messages in the Facebook app; instead, tapping the messages tab takes them to Messenger.

Facebook reportedly has planned the move at least since November.

Having messaging exist in the Facebook app meant there was more friction in replying to messages, and having a dedicated app would provide a more focused experience, CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly said at the time.

Mobile Strategy

The messaging shift appears to be part of Facebook’s strategy to increase usage of its standalone applications. It currently has seven mobile apps, including Facebook and WhatsApp — which it acquired for US$19 billion earlier this year — and an app for managing Pages.

The company is battling other messaging services such as Kik and WeChat for attention in certain regions.

There are some advantages to users in having a separate messaging app. It has additional features that were not available through the main Facebook app. For instance, users may find it easier to communicate within groups and share their locations or photos.

The app lets users see which of their friends have viewed their messages and to quickly switch between conversations. The company recently added a feature allowing users to place free calls.

“In a messaging app, you’ll be able to layer in some features that will allow you to control what you do in messaging different groups of people, managing conversations and threads, going back and looking at threads, that would be inherent to a native messaging app versus messaging inside of Facebook,” Gordon Owens, digital marketing professional at GO Digital WSI, told TechNewsWorld.

“They’re trying to make the features more robust, but I think by doing this it does make it less convenient,” social media expert Lon Safko told TechNewsWorld.

“They’re trying to both drive and force people to stay in the Facebook environment,” he explained. “They don’t want you going off on a side app or going over to one of their competitors. … If it forces you to stay inside of Facebook, you’re a captive audience.”

Taking Up Space

Among the criticisms of Facebook’s move are complaints that the Messenger app is not good enough, that users don’t want another app taking up valuable real estate on their phone’s screen, and that the change makes the Facebook experience on mobile more disparate and difficult.

“I’m sad to see the ability to message somebody right on Facebook go away. I’m more likely to message someone than if I have to jump over to another app,” GO Digital’s Owens said.

“When you’re using a smartphone, you have a pretty small screen,” noted Safko. “Having multiple apps is going to clutter things up. When you have clutter, ease of use becomes more difficult.”

Revenue and Attention

In the end, the reasons for the move could boil down to two things: revenue and user attention.

“There’s something about that that’s either going to keep people on the one app, keep the people away from competitors, give you the opportunity to add in advertising where it wasn’t before, or increase the advertising that is currently there in a certain kind of a way,” Safko said.

“I’m sad to see this transition happen to the social media industry,” he concluded, “because before when a feature was added, it was because they wanted to add more benefit to the customers. From now on, every feature that we see is going to be driven by money.”

Kris Holt is a writer and editor based in Montreal. He has written for the Daily Dot, The Daily Beast, and PolicyMic, among others. He's Scottish, so would prefer if no one used the word "soccer" in his company. You can connect with Kris on Google+.

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