Facebook Messenger: the new platform for everything?

When Facebook split off Messenger last year many hated the forced download but conceded that the move was smart. It separated the newsfeed part of Facebook from the chat component. At the time, Mark Zuckerberg said that the reason for the split was make messaging easier and to reduce friction. “You’re probably messaging people 15 times per day. Having to go into an app and take a bunch of steps to get to messaging is a lot of friction.”

The number of WhatsApp messages sent now exceeds the number of standard texts.  Source: The Economist

The number of WhatsApp messages sent now exceeds the number of standard texts.
Source: The Economist

In hindsight, this has proved to be a successful split. Facebook Messenger is the number two messaging app in terms of monthly users, after WhatsApp, also owned by Facebook. As of today, Facebook said Messenger currently has 600 million users, making that chart on the right, published today, already out of date. So, the users have spoken and they’re saying they like simple, easy and yes, friction-less messaging.

Then today, at its F8 Developer’s conference, Facebook announced an API for Messenger with the hope that third-party developers will start creating apps specifically for Messenger. According to TNW “most of the launch partners for Messenger are focused on content creation, GIFs and emoji (naturally). Some of the apps seen on the sample screen Zuckerberg teased include Giphy, Bitmoji and JibJab.” Techcrunch added to this list: “ Initial content tool partners include ESPN, JibJab, Legend, Ultratext, Ditty, Giphy, FlipLip Voice Changer, ClipDis, Memes, PicCollage Gif Cam, Kanvas, and more.” So, apps focused on content, content creation, and fun. Along with the peer-to-peer payment system on Messenger that was announced last week, Facebook, it seems, is trying to make Messenger a hub for all friend-to-friend communication. TNW concluded that “Messenger is following the footsteps of Asia-based messenger apps like as Line and WeChat, which are used as platforms for business, commerce, gaming and more.”

But wait, isn’t that exactly what Facebook was trying to escape when it spun off Messenger? Wasn’t the product goal to get users to send more messages? Granted, Messenger was spun out in April 2014, way before October’s acquisition of WhatsApp, so perhaps it was made in a bid to become the messaging leader? Perhaps the current switch to a multi-featured platform is to differentiate Messenger from WhatsApp, though I doubt that with WhatsApp’s popularity in Asia won’t inspire changes on that platform in the near future as well.

Creating a platform makes sense: Facebook has reach like no other social service and connections between users. Yet, while I understand Facebook’s business motivation to turn Messenger into a rich content-sharing platform, I mourn the death of that noble product goal: to make a dedicated app just to reduce friction for users.

 

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