In August 2011, Facebook released Facebook Messenger for iOS and Android, a standalone application that simply allowed users to access the Facebook Messenger component of Facebook, treating it almost like an SMS app.
In the past few months, though, this app has changed from a simple side-project, which is where other Facebook standalone apps have grown stale, into a beautiful, fully featured app which truly takes on iMessage, Google Hangouts, Skype, and a number of other apps in text messaging. It’s an isolated experience, compared to Facebook.com, but for that it’s a better experience, with quick access and a more focused look and feel.
In October, 2013, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pointed out the success of this standalone experience at their Q3 earnings call. Stating that “In the future, we expect to develop more of these services to help people share,” and echoing the reality of Facebook as a “historically” single app, he hinted at a move away from the one-app standard the company had set.
Facebook has had major issues when it comes to mobile, originally insisting on a HTML5 core to their iOS and Android apps before going native. But now, with mobile device usage exponentially rising, it’s an obvious, yet fresh, move from the company to start creating more siloed experiences.
Which is what, according to The Verge, 2014 will hold for Facebook. A source told the website that “when Mark says something like this [“we expect to develop more of these services”] publicly you can imagine that the company is following through on it,” meaning Facebook Messenger might be a sign of things to come. Even more different is the lack of much Facebook branding in Messenger, with the company treating Instagram as its photo brand, and simply Messenger as its messaging brand.
Facebook’s core app has always been very busy, with so much content digestion and creation mechanisms pumped into one app. However, the competitors, such as SnapChat, and originally Instagram, were all about a more minimalist approach. By now treating the mobile home screen as the homepage of their services, rather than the bloated Facebook app, the company can focus on these core social features, while creating brands which users can pick and choose. Facebook Home may have been the original sign of this on Android, however it appears to have failed.
To Zuckerberg, Facebook is a utility. Like electricity, it isn’t meant to be cool, but rather indispensable to us. And yet, people are starting to find alternatives to this “utility”. SnapChat isn’t built on Facebook login. Even Instagram was built around Amazon AWS. Twitter certainly isn’t
In that sense, as is the case with a number of modern apps, he no longer wants new additions to the service to be labeled as features. From now on, expect Facebook to continue with their core service of Facebook.com and Facebook as a utility, but to also expand away from that into apps which treat their core functionality as experiences, rather than essentials.
Think Events (or calendar), Statuses (or Twitter), Video and Photos, even Groups and Games. All speculation, but all a very realistic reworking of Facebook’s polluted newsfeed. And also, a more low-key way to clone its competitors, such as the failed Poke app to compete with Snapchat, or even Camera to compete with their own Instagram.
Hopefully Facebook can prove they’re not just a one-trick pony, a utility you know exists but don’t care how or why. With this new approach, Facebook will remain the utility, like App.net, through logins and friends lists, but what they do with that electricity, the appliances, will allow a breath of fresh, clean air from the company. And the only avenue for that is mobile. After all, we carry our phones wherever we go.