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It's Facebook Messenger minus the Facebook, as firm expands app's availability

The social network makes its messaging app for smartphones available to people who don't have a Facebook account.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg touts the Messenger app, now rolling out to anyone with a phone number.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg touts the Messenger app, now rolling out to anyone with a phone number. James Martin/CNET

Soon, Facebook Messenger might be known simply as "Messenger."

That's because the world's largest social network announced on Wednesday that users in select countries can access the popular mobile app even if they don't have a Facebook account.

The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company is in the process of rolling out an updated version of Messenger with all its features (from group chats and video calling to sharing photos and "stickers") available to anyone with a phone number.

New users will be able to access Messenger through an added option on the landing page: "Not on Facebook?" They click that; then sign up with their name, photo and phone number.

The move might come as a surprise to some given that Facebook has already attracted more than 1.44 billion users worldwide to its platform -- 1.25 billion of whom are monthly mobile users.

But as demonstrated by Wall Street reactions to quarterly earnings reports by Facebook and its social-media brethren -- notably Twitter -- growth in user numbers is given great importance. Facebook's multibillion-dollar acquisition of Whatsapp last year was regarded by some as a ploy to boost user numbers.

That said, it's no surprise Facebook would want to ramp up usage of its standalone Messenger app, arguably the strongest and fastest-growing in the social conglomerate's portfolio. The company is regularly paying attention to Messenger, bolstering the app with peer-to-peer payments in March and then location sharing (not-so-coincidentally one of the most popular functions on Whatsapp) in June.

For now, access to Messenger for people without Facebook accounts is limited to the US, Canada, Peru and Venezuela.

This story originally posted as "Facebook takes the Facebook out of Messenger to grab more users" on ZDNet.