Yesterday, in a Q&A session, Mark Zuckerberg was asked why Facebook forced users to download an additional app for messaging and turned off messaging in the main app. His response was insightful from the product perspective and I want to take a closer look at two of his points.
His first point was about why Facebook split the two apps. “On mobile, each app can only focus on doing one thing well,” said Zuckerberg. Facebook app users were using messaging more and more inside the main Facebook app. Since the main app was focused on promoting the newsfeed, using the messaging function was a side task and was awkward to use. “We saw that the top messaging apps people were using were their own app. These apps that are fast and just focused on messaging. Having to go into an app and take a bunch of steps to get to messaging is a lot of friction.” So while the social graph, the list of friends, is a necessary ingredient of both the newsfeed and messenger, it still makes sense to create a dedicated app for each for a better user experience. That’s an important lesson as we see some apps trying to be everything to everyone just because the different functions have a common base.
His second point had to do with the forced nature of the install, the abrupt push from Facebook that “forced” users to download the separate messenger app because the messaging functionality was turned off in the main app. “Because Messenger is faster and more focused, if you’re using it, you respond to messages faster, we’ve found. If your friends are slower to respond, we might not have been able to meet up.” The reasoning is that if one half of a messaging couple is responding much slower because they are still using the main Facebook app, then the half using messenger app will attribute that lag to the app. That user might abandon the messenger app and perhaps switch back to the main app. Forcing all the users to start using the new app at the same time makes it work better for everyone. “Asking folks to install another app is a short term painful thing, but if we wanted to focus on serving this [use case] well, we had to build a dedicated and focused experience.” That is something probably only a big company like Facebook can do without alienating users. As it turned out, users were angry but not for very long.
The big takeaway for app designers, though, is back to his first point: on mobile, focus on doing one thing well. Then, take a look at how your competitors are doing it, even if they are competing with you only in this one area. If everyone has figured out that a certain functionality needs to be its own app, maybe they’re on to something.