Facebook hopes new Messenger app will outpace SMS

The big social network is angling to replace text messaging with a new Facebook Messaging service that requires a phone number but no Facebook account.

Peter Deng, Facebook's director of communications product management
Peter Deng, Facebook's director of communications product management Stephen Shankland/CNET

PARIS -- Facebook revamped its Facebook Messenger service today in an attempt to get people to dump mobile-phone text messaging in favor of something more sophisticated.

Facebook Messenger today is essentially an instant-messaging network, complete with separate apps to use the service. But with the new incarnation, people need only a phone number, and no Facebook account, said Peter Deng, Facebook's director of communications product management, at the LeWeb show here.

The service is available initially in South Africa, India, Australia, Argentina, and Venezuela, he said, and in India's case in partnership with a carrier. Many young people have shown a major preference for text messaging over e-mail, and Facebook hopes they'll get opt for a more elaborate option from Facebook rather than the ordinary Simple Message Service.

"The SMS protocol has been around for 20 years. It's designed for old phones, and it don't take advantage of location or rich features like picture taking," Deng said. "We want to let people connect to each other."

Facebook isn't the first to try to replace SMS. There are innumerable instant-messaging applications, including Microsoft's Windows Messenger, which is to be replaced with Skype , and Apple is working to extend SMS itself with iOS and OS X.

The service has no ads and works on a wide array of feature phones, not just higher-end smartphones, he said.

And though it doesn't require Facebook use, the company unsurprisingly hopes Facebook Messenger will lead to it, particularly in developing markets.

"It could lead to other parts of the Facebook product -- post a status message or share an album," Deng said.

With its Web site geared for use on personal computers, Facebook has struggled to cope with the onset of mobile technology. Now, though, the company has put mobile devices in the center of its development plans.

"We're thinking about mobile first," Deng said. "It turns our development philosophy on its head. We've gone native."

And it's not easy. Developers have a pile of feature phones available to ensure their mobile apps and mobile site features work, he said, but there are innumerable compatibility challenges.

"Every single day, Facebook is accessed by 7,000 different types of devices," Deng said.

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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