It's Hard to Tell What Kind of Company Facebook Wants to Be

The latest app suggests it wants to be a cell phone company

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Facebook has multiple personalities. One day it's a place to hang out with friends, the next it's where you share your news, next it's something having to do with videos. It just can't make up its mind. Today it wants to be your cell phone, with the release of its new app Facebook Messenger, an app that allows you to Facebook message not only with your friends, but also with your other cell phone contacts.

With the latest application, cell-phone users never have to use their phone's applications to message their friends--they can use Facebook instead. It's almost as if Facebook wants to take on the mobile device space, explains TechCrunch's Jason Kincaid.

In the longer term Facebook clearly has ambitious plans around messaging. Messenger isn’t going to replace your phone’s SMS application any time soon because all outbound texts come from one of Facebook’s shortcodes rather than your phone number. But if all of your friends are using Messenger anyway (and that’s a big if), then you won’t need to SMS them in the first place.

It's not so ridiculous to think that Facebook has its heart set on turning into your favorite mobile phone company. HTC already has a Facebook phone, which is not officially Facebook's phone, but looks like, acts like and even smells like a Facebook product, argues Gadget Lab's Mike Issac.

The entire device screams “Facebook” in functionality, form and aesthetic. To begin with, there’s the most obvious social feature: A Facebook-branded “F” button located at the lower-right corner of the phone, dedicated entirely to updating your status (hence the name of the phone).

But, just last week it seemed as if Facebook was making moves into the publishing industry, with the purchase of Push Pop Press, a digital reader company, as we reported. And they also kind of look like a gaming platform, with their partnership with Zynga. And maybe they could be a video-watching hub, Bits Blogs' Nick Bilton points out. "Earlier this year Facebook also began testing streaming movies on its Web site in a partnership with Warner Brothers." It's hard to tell what exactly Facebook wants to look like.

Or maybe all of these acquisitions and moves are just business savvy. It doesn't necessarily want to look like a cell phone company, but this move comes out of necessity--something Facebook has to do if it wants to maintain its dominance, argues GigaOm's Colleen Taylor.  "Facebook’s future depends on how it can become more fully ingratiated with its users through mobile. While Facebook has become a big part of people’s mobile activity already, the launch of Facebook Messenger shows that the company is willing to make major investments in its mobile growth for the months and years ahead." The same goes for its acquisition of Push Pop Press, which Facebook may have bought just for its talent, argued Wired's Tim Carmody.

Whether Facebook wants to morph into a completely different kind of media company, or is creating a whole new beast we've never seen, we can at least expect the company to continue trying new things.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.