While the use of the BlackBerry Messenger service as a real-time organizing tool during the London riots has made news, some news cycle in the not-too-distant future will likely talk about the use of Facebook Messenger. On Tuesday, the social-networking giant launched its Messenger service for Apple iOS and Google Android mobile devices.
Facebook has some ground to cover to compete with BlackBerry, whose BBM has 45 million users. But Facebook brings about 750 million users worldwide to the table, and by Wednesday its Messenger app had already become the top free app downloaded at Apple's App Store. At the moment, the Facebook app is available only for U.S. users.
'Best Way To Reach Someone'
Writing on the company blog, Facebook engineer Lucy Zhang said it's not always "easy to know the best way to reach someone on their phone." A user might not know, she noted, if an e-mail or text should be sent, which will be checked first by the recipient, and if the last message was received.
Instead, Zhang wrote, it should be easier. "You should be able to write a message, click 'Send' and know that you will reach the person right away." Messenger, she wrote, simplifies messaging and provides "a faster way to message friends and small groups."
The app is designed to send or receive messages through a single click, and they are delivered through notifications and texts, which Facebook says means it's more likely they'll be received "right away."
The app was designed as an extension of Facebook messages, so conversations include texts, chats, e-mails and messages. Group conversations can be quickly started, locations can be easily be added, and photos can be attached. If you're a demonstrator on the go who doesn't want others to know your location, that function can be turned off with one click.
'Intersection of Mobile and Social'
Michael Gartenberg, research director at the Gartner Group, said Facebook's highly visible release of its Messenger "shows how the intersection of mobile and social networks will become increasingly important."
He noted that mobile social messages are still in a "pretty nascent state," and others are jumping in -- including a new social-messaging service expected from Apple in the fall.
Facebook's big advantage, Gartenberg said, is obviously its enormous social network, and the fact that users "don't have to rebuild their social graph."
Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis for consumer technology at the NPD Group, said Messenger indicates Facebook's further investment into two areas of high strategic importance for the company -- communications and mobile. Its recent deal with Skype to offer video messaging, he said, shows its growing emphasis on communications.
He noted that, on the mobile side, Messenger is "positioned to directly compete with SMS, Twitter" and third-party apps. This could begin to change Facebook's center of gravity, he said, from "a place where you primarily catch up with your friends" to a place where you keep in touch with your friends in real time wherever you are.