What Is Beluga, Facebook's Latest Acquisition?

beluga-icon.pngFounded in July of 2010, Beluga is a popular group messaging service that Facebook acquired when it was only eight months old. The social networking company announced its acquisition of the little white whale early on Tuesday, March 1, but there's no word yet on how it will incorporate the service or the team behind its quick success. (Further details will be revealed, Facebook promised, in the coming months.)

The idea behind Beluga is simple: CrunchBase describes it as a "mobile app and web service that enable[s] simple, instant, and rich group messaging from your phone." So, say you're out on the town and you decide (perhaps drunkenly, perhaps not) to let all of your friends know about the Next Big Thing which, coincidentally, you've just thought of. (That always happens when you're three drinks in, right?) Before Beluga (and other group messaging platforms) you only had a couple of options: You could stumble through your Contacts list, moving one friend at a time to a standard text message; you could copy and paste a text and send several text messages in a row; or you could take to Twitter -- but we're all aware of the consequences. "Use Beluga to plan a night out or just share updates and photos with your close friends and family," CrunchBase explains. "Like SMS, it's instant. Like email, everyone's in on the conversation. Best of all, it's private, so let the real conversations begin." It's more than just SMS or email, though. While participating in a Beluga pod (the service's cutesy name for its customized chatrooms), you can share locations and photos in addition to text.

It's no surprise that such a simple idea exploded into a popular product that one of the biggest Internet properties felt it needed to own. Beluga was conceived by a team with impressive resumes; It was co-founded by a trio that includes Jonathan Perlow, who, as a senior staff engineer at Google, lead the team that worked on Gmail's user interface. The other two founders of Beluga, Lucy Zhang and Ben Davenport, also spent time at Google: Zhang worked as a designer and developer for AdWords and Google News and Davenport helped to build AdSense.

If we had to venture a guess it would be that Beluga will be folded into Facebook chat, allowing users to join private chatrooms while on the site. "We're excited to continue to build our vision for mobile group messaging as part of the Facebook team," Beluga said in its announcement of the acquisition. "Beluga and Facebook are committed to create new and better ways to communicate and share group experiences." The big question is whether or not Beluga users will be able to use the service outside of Facebook chat.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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