August 10, 2011

Facebook Messenger

Facebook recently launched a mobile messaging client, a standalone app that aims to challenge carriers, handset makers and others as the company expands its platform. - Facebook Messenger will let users to exchange instant messages, images and location information by using contact numbers stored on smartphones, regardless of whether they are friends on Facebook, according to the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company. Messages can also be broadcast to a group of people at once, a feature the company said can help organize activities and socializing on the go.

The client will run on iOS as well as Android smartphones. Facebook in March acquired messaging firm Beluga, which helped develop the app.

Facebook Messenger builds upon the increasing popularity of Facebook's communications features. Its email-like messaging and chat features, available to the social network's estimated 250 million active users, have made Facebook one of the top destinations on the Web and on smartphones, expanding the company into a full-fledged platform.

The company describes Messenger as an extension of the Facebook communication experience, which currently allows PC users to text chat. The company's prior IM offerings worked only among Facebook friends and required mobile users to go through the Facebook app, which is much slower than the new chat-optimized app.

"The positioning has always been how do we make Facebook messages more readily accessible and useable," said Peter Deng, product manager at Facebook in charge of the Messenger app.

By releasing its own standalone messaging client, Facebook is taking on competing offerings like BlackBerry maker Research In Motion's BBM service and Apple's future iMessage service. The Messenger service also goes up against niche offerings like GroupMe, and competes against mobile phone carriers' own text messaging services.

Carriers themselves, who derive profits from texting fees, may pose the biggest challenge to Messenger by managing networks in a way to hinder Facebook's app.

Messenger's launch also seems timed to respond to rival social network Google+ and its much lauded Hangout and Huddle features, which allow group videos and instant chat with friends. The new network has grown to more than 25 million users in just a little over a month, so Facebook may be feeling pressure to roll out new features like Messenger to keep people away from its rival.

A standalone app is a rarity for Facebook, which has so far attempted to consolidate its activity either on its website or via apps. Necessity may have prompted the release, since a dedicated client offers more speed and reliability in delivering messages, but Messenger could also herald other standalone apps, especially as Facebook moves to offer more videos, for example.

The company also recently announced a partnership with Skype to offer video chat through its website last month, offering another way Facebook may expand its suite of services and features.

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