Forget 20-year-old SMS text messages, with their 160 character cap and complete lack of pizazz.
Beginning this week, Facebook reps have announced, Android users can sign up for a Messenger account with only their name and phone number, and use the platform to chat with friends and family without going over your monthly text message cap.
There are, of course, a couple of catches: For one, an iOS version of the updated hasn't yet been unveiled, so iPhone users are out of luck for now. Moreover, the new Messenger will only work in certain markets, including India and Venezuela, although a US version is rumored to be on the way.
In an interview this week with The New York Times, Peter Deng, the Facebook employee in charge of the Messenger app, said that it was time for SMS messaging to get a makeover. SMS messaging, he said, is "limited to 160 characters, and it’s not at all rich in its expression. People want to connect deeply with each other, and they don’t want to be constrained by various technical boundaries and decisions made 20 years ago."
We haven't gotten our hands on the new Messenger, so we can't comment on the software. But the idea of the platform is appealing – it's a free Facebook messaging app for those folks who remain wary of signing up for an actual Facebook account. And the whole thing will likely be a win for Facebook, too, in so far as it pulls new users into the Facebook ecosystem, and more deeply entrenches current users.
Over at PC Magazine, Adario Strange argues that Messenger may have one more important benefit for the social networking giant: identity confirmation.
Another way of looking at the change is as a quicker, more efficient way for Facebook to confirm the real identity of its users, one of its primary concerns as it endeavors to make the site something akin to a global identity database. In recent years, Google, Facebook, and other tech heavyweights have taken to using a person's phone number as confirmation of their identity. So this shift of focus from an online account to a phone number-attached messaging client could simply be Facebook's masterstroke toward eliminating any friction in acquiring new users who have little interest in spending hours socializing on the company's website, but remain heavy users of messaging apps.
The new version of Messenger is available for Android users starting today.
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