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Facebook Messenger chats its way to 700 million users

CEO Mark Zuckerberg adds that his other messaging application, WhatsApp, has 800 million monthly users.

Zuckerberg talks up Messenger, which, he says, now has 700 million users. James Martin/CNET

Facebook's instant-messaging empire continues to grow, CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed this week.

Facebook Messenger, the instant-messaging application that complements the company's social-network platform, has grown to 700 million monthly users, or people who send at least one message a month, Zuckerberg said at his company's annual shareholders meeting Thursday. That's up 100 million users from March. In November, the service stood at 500 million users.

Last February, Facebook took a big step toward playing a prominent role in messaging when it acquired WhatsApp, the world's most popular messaging application, for approximately $22 billion. At the time, WhatsApp had more than 400 million monthly active users and since then, it's doubled that number to 800 million, according to Zuckerberg. Between his two messaging platforms, Zuckerberg has now attracted 1.5 billion monthly users. He didn't say how many of those people overlap.

Despite the massive numbers, Facebook's apps, while leading, are not the only healthy players in the field. China-based WeChat, for example, announced in March that it has 500 million monthly active users. Another messaging app, Kik, has 200 million users.

The popularity of those services illustrates the changing landscape in texting. Traditionally, users took their phones and text-messaged each other through cellular carrier services. Over the last few years, alternatives like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have grown in popularity. The reliance on traditional texting has therefore declined and people are communicating with friends on apps they install on their mobile devices. The applications also provide greater flexibility, allowing users to share video, audio and text.

Realizing that opportunity, Facebook has quietly made messaging a cornerstone of its strategy. The company, which has more than 1.4 billion users worldwide, wants to be about more than a place for friends to share pictures and stories. Over the last couple of years, Facebook has initiated a strategy that focuses on connecting people in different ways and acting as a platform for them to communicate. A key component in that effort has been to build out its messaging business. And according to Zuckerberg, those efforts are not slowing down.

"Over the next three to five years one of the big parts of our story is going to be that Facebook now is no longer just a single app in a way that people communicate but now we've developed a strategy of trying to build multiple world-class apps and services for all the different ways that people want to communicate," he told shareholders on Thursday.

Messaging isn't the only place Facebook has been able to latch on to massive communities. Instagram, another Facebook property that's used to share images with friends, has 300 million users. That number, however, is about the same as it had in December.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.