Facebook Boasts About Messenger Growth After Irritating Users

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Facebook announced that it now has over 500 million people using Facebook Messenger each month. This, of course, comes after the company started requiring people using the Facebook mobile app to use the Messenger app for instant messages.

A lot of people still complain about having to use the Messenger app. Has this bothered you? Let us know in the comments.

As you've probably heard, a lot of Facebook users who weren't already using Messenger were pretty irritated by being forced to use it. CEO Mark Zuckerberg addressed them last week, though probably didn't offer much to quell such irritation. The reason for making it this way, he said, is basically because tapping a tab was too hard. The quote is as follows:

We wanted to do this because we believe that this is a better experience. Messaging is becoming increasingly important. On mobile, each app can only focus on doing one thing well, we think.

The primary purpose of the Facebook app is News Feed. Messaging was this behavior people were doing more and more. 10 billion messages are sent per day, but in order to get to it you had to wait for the app to load and go to a separate tab. We saw that the top messaging apps people were using were their own app. These apps that are fast and just focused on messaging. 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.

As mobile Facebook users know, the messaging feature was simply in a tab, so not really a whole lot of friction at all. No more friction than opening up a completely separate app really. Zuck also said:

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. We build for the whole community. Why wouldn’t we let people choose to install the app on their own at their own pace? The reason is that what we’re trying to do is build a service that’s good for everyone. 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.

Facebook has been releasing more and more standalone apps to varying degrees of interest from users. Users of the main Facebook app are likely hoping that Facebook doesn't start requiring them to use more standalone apps. Keep in mind, Messenger is one that people were already using. Now imagine being forced to use Slingshot or Rooms.

"Messenger was the first of our standalone apps, and unlike our core Facebook apps, it focused on one use case – messaging," says Peter Martinazzi, Director of Product Management. "With Messenger, you can reach people instantly. It is just as fast as SMS but gives you the ability to express yourself in ways that SMS can’t. You can send stickers or videos, take selfies, chat with groups and make free calls. We’ve also continued to improve speed and reliability. Updates to Messenger ship every two weeks so it continues to evolve and improve."

Messenger has been around since 2011, and some of us have been using it for quite some time with little complaint. To boast about a user milestone now, as mobile Facebook users didn't really have much choice but to use it, seems a little odd. But if you want to give Facebook a pat on the back, go ahead and pat. They do seem to be reaching for one.

Facebook, by the way, claims (on its most recent earnings report) to have 1.35 billion monthly active users and 1.12 billion mobile monthly active users. These presumably include mobile web users, and not just app users.

Still, 500 Million is an interesting milestone considering that was the same milestone used in the tagline for David Fincher's The Social Network, which doesn't really seem like all that long ago.

Facebook isn't just looking for a pat on the back in sharing this user milestone. Announcing it provides a nice big, round number for potential partners to keep in mind as Facebook gears up to make Messenger more a business, which must be the real reason they've forced people to use it.

An e-commerce element is coming to Messenger. It's already been spotted in the wild:

Zuckerberg has even talked about it in the past. During the company's Q2 earnings call, he said (via Business Insider):

Messenger will have — over time there will be some overlap between that and payments. But I guess what I’m just trying to say is two things. One is, the payments piece will be a part of what will help drive the overall success and help people share with each other and interact with businesses. But we’re really focused on the interactions overall, rather than the mechanism and David shares that view.

And the second thing is just that there’s so much ground work that we need to do in order to make it so that people are communicating with businesses and public figures and entities in these other apps that we’re building, which is part of the business ecosystem. And I really can’t underscore that enough that we have a lot of work to do and we could take the cheap and easy approach and just try to put ads in or do payments and make some money in the short term. But we’re not going to do that. So to the extent that any of your models or anything reflects that we might be doing that, I would strongly encourage you here to adjust that, because we’re not going to and we’re going to take time to do this in the way that we think that’s going to be right over multiple years.

Messenger is run by former PayPal President David Marcus. According to Wired, he wasn't responsible for the switch to making people download the separate Messenger app, but he does approve based on the grounds that "adults don't download apps anymore...so if we didn't do this, there's no way people would give it a try."

The Wired piece also hints at one way, other than just payments, that Facebook may look to monetize Messenger. Here's the relevant excerpt:

Marcus wants to reinvent messaging between people and businesses, so that it’s useful to both parties. “It’s really broken,” he tells me, as we are wrapping up our airport coffee.

I agree with him. Who doesn’t hate spam mail? But I can’t imagine how it could be better. “What do you mean?” I ask.

“Well, what airline are you flying today?” he says.

“United,” I reply.

“Have you ever looked forward to calling United?” he asks with a slight smile.

The question hangs between us as we reach for our bags. What would United be willing to pay Facebook to communicate better with me?

Based on that, it sounds like Facebook could be considering something along the lines of what Kik Messenger is doing with is promoted chats (which just added a new keyword targeting option).

But come on. Facebook really only required the app download to reduce friction, right?

Are you buying Zuckerberg's explanation of why Facebook made people download Messenger as a separate app? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Note: This article has been updated from its original form to include additional information.

Images via Ustream, Facebook, The Social Network

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.