Facebook Not Feeling the Love (Again)

When Facebook announced in April of this year that the messaging feature would be removed from the Facebook mobile app and users would be required to download the separate Messenger app, there was the usual outcry from the Facebook faithful. After all, Facebook users are notorious for not liking change, whether it’s a seismic shift like increasing the size of photos or something smaller like tweaking Facebook’s privacy policies.

However, this time the backlash feels a little different. We are almost four months into the migration period and, if anything, the anti-Messenger sentiment is growing. Over 21,000 people have submitted a review of the app on iTunes and over 95 percent of those reviews are resoundingly negative, leaving Messenger with an embarrassing 1-star rating. (1 star is the lowest rating on iTunes; fortunately for Facebook, you can’t give an app zero stars!)

What are the biggest failings of Messenger? Well, there are numerous complaints about the app constantly crashing and messages not going through, but the biggest objection appears to be the lack of convenience: ‘Why do we now have to use two apps when before we just used one?’ It’s a very good question and the answer probably has more to do with Facebook’s long term strategy for growth that it has to do with the convenience of its current customers.

When Facebook paid $19 billion for WhatsApp back in February, many analysts and tech commentators were left scratching their heads. How could a simple messaging app, albeit one with over 400 million users, be worth so much money? While some of the reasons for the acquisition were defensive – anything to stop it falling into the hands of Google – it was also an admission that, in the mobile era, Facebook has some serious limitations.

While Facebook continues to pick up additional users in various parts of the world, it has reached saturation point in many of its largest markets, including the U.S. In fact, younger American users have been abandoning Facebook in droves, preferring less cluttered, more direct social media apps like Instagram, Snapchat, and even Twitter.

It’s this movement back to straightforward messaging that has Facebook worried. Not only can you get back to a more meaningful one-on-one dialogue (or one-on-many using group chat), but the latest texting and chat apps allow you to add photos and videos, and even engage in one-touch video chat.

With these other options available, who is going to bother to open Facebook to send a simple message? Ironically, the in-app message integration that is so convenient to traditional Facebook users is now a major inconvenience to non-Facebook users, and it’s those non-Facebook users that are so important to the future growth of the company.

As they have demonstrated many times in the past, Mark Zuckerberg and friends are quite willing to take a little criticism now if it means they stay relevant down the road. Meanwhile, Facebook mobile users can either download the Messenger app or switch to one of the many alternatives. Either way, we end up doing what Facebook wants us to do and that’s open another app!


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