The New Face of Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger is getting some bells and whistles.
Facebook Messenger is getting some bells and whistles.

The Facebook Messenger app is getting a facelift. Its newest addition will change the interface dramatically, but it’s also so simple that most people won’t even notice that it wasn’t there before.

It’s getting a “Home” button. This would allow users to quickly navigate back to the home screen from panes where they might be chatting privately with friends or even brands.

Yes, brands. Another one of the app’s recent upgrades was to let companies create chatbots that would interface with users in real time (and vice versa, though the advantages do seem a little one-sided). It makes sense that businesses would want a way to connect with people right where they’re holding conversations with their real-life acquaintances. And right now, that’s on Facebook Messenger, which boasts over 900 million users.

What does it all mean?

Are these changes actually good for user experience? It definitely seems like one of those instances where anecdotal evidence seems to contradict the statistics. Sure, Facebook Messenger might have over 900 downloads and be chasing WhatsApp as the most-used messenger service for smartphones. But people have also been expressing dissatisfaction with Facebook Messenger ever since it was divorced from Facebook.

Suddenly, a feature that people always had integrated into Facebook became something they needed to download separately (taking up more gigabytes on their phone, no less). Then, they’d need to swap back and forth depending on whether they wanted to post or message. What happens when you want to check a friend’s birthday and then message them birthday wishes? Two apps. (Don’t worry, Facebook is adding birthdays to Facebook Messenger in the near future.)

Change is never easy, but people seemed particularly resentful about that bait-and-switch. So why does Facebook Messenger have 900 million users? Maybe because Facebook has 900 million users, and all of those users had to go download another app to do the same thing they used to do with one app. It’s not that 1.8 billion people are now using Facebook-owned apps, it’s that they made everyone download the same thing twice. Smart business? Only if the messenger app remains competitive in its own right.

But will a “Home” button be enough? The company will also be adding a Favorites button (for your most commonly messaged friends) and is incorporating video messaging. Snapchat-like features are also in development, and Facebook Messenger has already added an option for SMS (which is attracting some bad press, because it’s apparently hard to opt out of this service on Android).

If Facebook Messenger can successfully become an all-in-one multimedia messaging app, of course it has a shot at cornering the market the way that Facebook originally did with social media. Otherwise it might get a more permanent “Home” button–one that sends it back to the Facebook app, where it came from.

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