Facebook plans to end your ability to send a message to your friends on the Facebook app.
Instead, all users — except for people using old platforms or desktop versions of Facebook — will be forced to message each other through Messenger, Facebook’s standalone messaging app.
Anyone trying to message someone on the Facebook app will be prompted to use Messenger instead.
This seems like … madness.
Facebook without messaging is basically Twitter — a stream of random stuff from your friends. One of the big advantages Facebook always had over Twitter was that it combined public publishing with the intimacy of quieter, behind-the-scenes conversations with your friends, via messages.
To put it more bluntly, many a hookup began on Facebook — and now Facebook is bring all that to an end.
It’s worth underlining that Messenger is actually a great standalone app for messaging. You can see why Facebook would want to encourage its users to check it out.
But forcing 1 billion people to use a second app, just to say hello privately to all their friends on the first app? This seems counter-intuitive at best.
Expect to hear users get outraged by it.
Especially older, less tech-savvy users, who — rightly — won’t see why they should have to download, install, setup and login to a new app just to do the same thing that the old one did perfectly well.
You can tell that Facebook is worried about the potential for negative feedback by the way it’s rolling out the program. It is starting in Europe first, where it is less popular:
Wednesday, Facebook notified users in a half-dozen European countries, including the U.K. and France, that the messaging feature in their mobile app would cease to operate in the coming weeks. Eventually, it will stop working for all users.
Only after ironing out the kinks on the Europeans will the forced Messenger migration reach the U.S., which remains Facebook’s heartland. (Facebook may have more users in Europe but it has a greater proportion of all users in the U.S. and Canada.)
Messenger will leave Facebook users inhabiting bizarrely different worlds. Chat Heads, the function in which the person you’re messaging with appears in a moveable circle on the screen, will disappear for iPhone users but not Android users. Messaging on Facebook will still be available for older Android users and people on desktop. All the functions will remain in Paper, Facebook’s beautiful but little-loved visual-heavy version of itself. (Paper isn’t in the top 200 apps in the iPhone App Store as of this writing.)
There is a business logic to this: Having one place for Facebook messages makes more sense than having two. Facebook has become distressed that people respond to texts and messages inside competing message apps very quickly, but they’re slower to respond to Facebook messages. We’re told that people get replies 20% faster on Messenger than Facebook.
Until recently, that slowness was hurting Facebook because competing standalone messaging apps were stealing the message business from under Facebook’s feet.
Messenger “solves” this problem by diverting Facebook communication into an app that users respond to more quickly. Presumably, the hope here is that after a short period of consumer resistance we’ll actually increase our use of Facebook products once we get used to Messenger’s improved messaging environment.
Of course, if Messenger becomes a super-awesome experience it might start to compete with WhatsApp — the app CEO Mark Zuckerberg acquired for $US19 billion — and that raises a whole new set of concerns about Facebook’s user strategy here.
In the short-term, though, only one thing is clear: Users have not asked for this, and Facebook is forcing it upon us.
It doesn’t feel good.
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