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The Mobile Messaging Wars - and Why Facebook Is Forcing Users to Use Its Messenger App

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Dan York

In the ongoing war for mobile messaging dominance and "what will replace SMS”, Facebook has decided to annoy a serious part of their user base and force all mobile users to move to Facebook's separate Messenger app. In a short period of time, you will be forced to install the Messenger app if you want to send messages to Facebook friends while using your iOS or Android mobile phone.

There has been a great amount of media attention to this move this week, including my own opinion. For some context here is the text of the email that I received directly from Facebook:

We wanted to let you know that messages are moving out of the Facebook app to our Messenger app, a free app that's faster and more reliable for everyday messaging. Messenger also includes: new ways to send photos and videos, voice calls, stickers, group conversations and more.

Soon, we'll start guiding you to get started with Messenger. After a few days, you'll also see a reminder notice in the Facebook app, where you'd normally see your messages. At that point, we'll ask you to install Messenger or go to the Facebook website to view and send messages. You'll still see new message notifications in the Facebook app, and it'll be easy to switch between Facebook and Messenger.

We appreciate your taking the time to install Messenger and know it will take a little while to adjust to using a second app. We look forward to sharing this fast, fun and reliable way of messaging with you. You can learn more here.

Where the "Soon, we'll start guiding you...” is really just marketing-speak for "Soon, you'll have no choice if you want to continue using Facebook messaging on your mobile phone.

The Bigger Picture

I understand why Facebook is doing this. They want a separate, lean "messaging" app that integrates tightly with your mobile phone operating system (iOS or Android). They want it so integrated that eventually you use it only and stop using the messaging app that is part of your o/s.

On my iPhone Apple has done a brilliant job with the "Messages" app integrating Apple's iMessage service in with regular SMS text messages. By default Apple tries to send your message via their OTT messaging service (iMessage) and then falls back to SMS when the recipient isn't registered with iMessage.

Facebook wants you to use their Messenger app as your default messenging app. They would like me to replace Apple's "Messages" with their "Messenger" app as my place to go do send a message. So they need a lean and focused messenging app to do this.

The OTT War For Mobile Messaging Dominance

And this IS the end-game. The war now is for which of the many "Over-The Top" (OTT) apps will be the replacement for the dying world of SMS messaging. People aren't sending as many actual SMS messages and are instead using:

  • iMessage from Apple
  • Facebook Messaging
  • WhatsApp (also now from Facebook)
  • Line from NHN
  • WeChat from Tencent
  • Hangouts from Google (as part of Google+ or separate)
  • Skype from Microsoft
  • Viber
  • Twitter
  • Blackberry Messenger

and probably another hundred smaller ones.

And yes, these are all separate "walled gardens" of propriety messaging (as I wrote about back in 2007, although the names have changed substantially). You can't message someone on a different system. You both have to be part of the same system — or potentially the system may fall back to sending a SMS message as iMessage does.

The attempts to lock Internet users into closed, proprietary walled gardens continues.

Make your app easy and simple to use… and get the most people using your app so that they won't want to switch to some other app.

The Broader OTT War For Mobile Communications

Notice, too, that Facebook mentions using Messenger for "voice calls”. With this on iOS they are clearly aiming to take on Apple's "Facetime Audio" that Apple now presents as an option each time you make a call. And they can take on Microsoft's Skype and Google's Hangouts.

Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

All trying to be THE app/service that you use for communication on your mobile device. (And you can probably expect folks like Amazon to enter the game at some point, too.)

Giants on the playground.

And who is missing are the past giants of telecom. The "telcos"… the "carriers"… the "service providers". They are well on their way to being commoditized down to "big, fat, dumb pipes" of data… and they don't like that.

Hence you see them trying to come out with their own apps and services (as Telefonica has done) or trying to come out with a rival offering such as Joyn (which Dean Bubley rips apart while pointing out the fallacy of talking of the "messaging market")… or using their control of the underlying data network to slow or block services… or using their powerful lobbying capabilities to attempt to get governments to regulate or intervene.

THIS is why so many of the upcoming ITU events matter. THIS is why the discussions on "network neutrality" matter.

The war for the future of mobile communications is well underway… and Facebook's move this week is just part of that much larger battle.

Even if that move will severely annoy Facebook users like me… many of whom will, of course, suck it up and install Messenger… because whether we like it or not, we do want to communicate with Facebook users while mobile… while others may choose to decrease their use of Facebook for messaging.

What do you think? Will you install the separate app? Or don't you use Facebook much for messaging? How do you see this playing out for Facebook?

* * *

You can also listen to audio commentary on this topic:

(A version of this post appeared earlier this week on Disruptive Telephony.)

By Dan York, Author and Speaker on Internet technologies - and on staff of Internet Society. Dan is employed as a Senior Content Strategist with the Internet Society but opinions posted on CircleID are entirely his own. Visit the blog maintained by Dan York here.

Related topics: Mobile, Telecom

 
   

Comments

Just stop using facebook Steven Waechter  –  Aug 06, 2014 10:27 AM PDT

Just stop using facebook. Their real names security model is a big problem.

Remember how myspace was so prominent?  They are dead now. *Everyone* stopped using it.  It happened nearly overnight. 

When Microsoft got rid of MSN messenger in favor of Skype, I just stopped using it. I would guess millions of others failed to migrate, finding that to be just too much trouble for too much heavy software to install and support.  We had a simple messaging app where we could send a link, and the receiver could click it. We didn't ever want or need video chat, all that crazy stuff. Not for an IM client. 

I don't care for facebook's "real names only" security model. I like blogging, and sometimes I find great power in doing so anonymously.  Changing minds.

I do have to be careful what I want to be publicly attributed to me.  So I have to be careful what I say on facebook. 

If you like only real names you may like facebook.  Those that are comfortable with that security model will keep using it.  I am just not one of them.

I think there are a lot of people who don't want everything they say to be attributable directly to them.

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