Facebook, which thoroughly dominates the current era of the online social networking industry, is setting itself up nicely for the next. Many see messaging apps as the future of social: Lightweight, real-time, personal conversations that can become rich environments for media sharing, entertainment, and even commerce. Facebook is in a particularly luxurious position here.
It now owns the two largest messaging services in the world: No. 1, WhatsApp, which last said it had 700 million monthly active users, and was acquired by Facebook for more than $20 billion. And no. 2, its homegrown Facebook Messenger, which now has 600 million monthly active users.
What’s interesting is how the apps are starting to diverge: Two similar concepts with increasingly different feature sets, philosophies, and strengths. Facebook’s plans for Messenger are ambitious and complex. At the firm’s F8 developer conference last week, it announced a new Messenger “platform.” Companies can build their services directly into Messenger, ceding some control to Facebook in exchange for (theoretically) massive distribution. The idea is similar to the old Facebook web platform from last decade, which fueled the growth of companies like Zynga, the gaming giant behind FarmVille, and Zong, an early Facebook mobile payments partner, whose founder David Marcus is now running Messenger for Facebook after a stint at PayPal.