Facebook Messenger takes aim at email, texting

Facebook Messenger, a new standalone app launching this week, allows users to send group messages or share photos with a single tap of the touchscreen.

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    Facebook is rolling out an independent chat app called Messenger. Here, the Facebook homepage.
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Facebook announced today that it would roll out a new standalone app called Messenger, which will allow users to send and receive messages to friends directly from their mobile devices. Messenger is simple, in the extreme: A list of buddies, and a point-and-click way to reach them. The app is available on iOS and Android devices; you can download it over here.

"More and more of us rely on our phones to send and receive messages," Facebook's Lucy Zhang wrote on the company blog. "But it isn't always easy to know the best way to reach someone on their phone. Should you send an email or text? Which will they check first? Did they even get your last message? We think messaging should be easier than that. You should be able to write a message, click 'Send' and know that you will reach the person right away."

Messenger also includes some photo and location sharing functionalities, as well as a group chat function.

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So what's the big idea behind Messenger? Well, for one, it keeps users in the Facebook ecosystem for longer, which is good news – in the longterm and short – for Facebook and its advertisers. Moreover, Facebook is clearly hoping that Messenger will supplement or even supplant traditional email among some users, increasing the number of eyeballs on the site. Again, good news for Facebook.

Over at Macworld, Lex Friedman thinks that Facebook may be "feeling the heat from a little social networking upstart." That upstart? Google+, which launched earlier this year, and has continued to attract users at a robust clip. As Friedman points out, Messenger actually bears a quite striking resemblance to Huddle, a chat feature already available on Google+.

"Facebook’s new app – only its second foray into the App Store – hews quite closely to Google+’s Huddle," Friedman writes. "Messenger allows for group correspondence between friends you specify, and can optionally include location data for chat participants, too. Participants in your conversation who lack smartphones can still send and receive Messenger messages through traditional SMS instead, if they first confirm their mobile numbers with Facebook."

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