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Facebook singles out Groups, in trend toward standalone apps

The world's largest social network has created a separate mobile app to help group users plan and collaborate. But don't worry: Facebook says it won't force users to download it.


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Facebook's newest app makes it easier to communicate with the company's Groups service. Facebook

Facebook is continuing to break off features of its website into different apps. The latest effort: a mobile program called Groups.

The social-networking giant on Tuesday unveiled its newest app, meant to serve the 700 million people who use its "groups" feature every month to communicate with one another and share items like photos. The app, available for free Tuesday for devices powered by Apple's iOS or Google's Android, will also separate notifications from each group, ostensibly making it easier to keep track of their respective activity.

The effort caps what has been a busy year of app making for Facebook. The company has debuted five new apps since January, varying in scope and ambition while tying back in some way to its core service. The splintered approach represents a reversal of last year's attempt to create a single experience that would take over the phone, Facebook Home , instead creating several specific-purpose-based apps.

Among them, was Paper, an app that puts a more photo-centric facelift on Facebook's service. The company has also created chatting apps like Slingshot, an ephemeral messaging service, and Rooms, which is designed to help people chat in groups anonymously. Most have been created by Facebook's Creative Labs group.

Of course, Facebook is just one of many tech giants expanding its portfolio of apps for mobile devices. Google as well has created individual apps for its docs, spreadsheets and presentations services, as well as its virtual-assistant service Google Now. Microsoft earlier this month separated its Office suite of programs into three separate apps for its Word, PowerPoint and Excel software.

A reason for this new trend is that users tend to appreciate apps with a concentrated purpose, said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in an October conference call "There's an increased focus for apps to do one thing really well," he said. "So on desktop, a lot of the things that might have fit well into a single Facebook website, now in order to best serve people, you need to build multiple standalone different apps."

Facebook said that while it has created a separate Groups app, it won't force users to download it. The primary Facebook app will still be able to connect to the company's groups functionality. That contrasts with the approach Facebook took with its Messenger app, which for a short while drew the ire of users because they needed to download the new program to continue chatting with their friends -- a feature that was disabled in the core Facebook mobile app.