Do I spend too much time on Facebook? Maybe, but that doesn’t mean I’m a real fan of the service. In fact, I often find Facebook frustrating and annoying, and I resent the cavalier way in which CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his minions constantly mess with the interface, the news feed, and most significantly, the privacy settings. What I’m annoyed about today isn’t yet another ripoff of my personal data — I’m mad about a ripoff of users’ time and attention.
Facebook has decided to force all of its mobile users to use its Messenger app, which means you’ll need to have two separate Facebook apps on your smartphone.
The switch won’t happen immediately. Facebook said its European users will have to make the switch in a few weeks. All users will have to do the same, but the timetable isn’t yet clear.
Zuckerberg signaled his intention to do this last November during an onstage talk with a TechCrunch writer, when he said: “the reason why we’re [moving people to Messenger is that] we found that having it as a second-class thing inside the Facebook app makes it so there’s more friction to replying to messages, so we would rather have people be using a more focused experience for that.” (In a statement issued yesterday, the company essentially repeated that justification, saying it wants to focus on Messenger.)
In other words, Zuckerberg thinks that the Chat function within the mobile Facebook app is clunky. To be fair, he has a point. I have Messenger on my iPhone and I’ve found that it’s generally faster and gives me a more accurate reading of when my friends have been active. The newest version of Messenger also makes it easier to connect with Facebook Friends by making Wi-Fi calls from within the app. That would be a bigger deal if most users still worried about how many talk minutes they have left and if there weren’t other chat applications with the same functionality.
I’m not a developer, so I can’t speak to the difficulty of improving chat functionality within the existing app. But did Facebook even try? Given how important mobile is to the company’s business, not to mention how important it is to users, you’d think Facebook would try to improve the chat experience within its main app before making a move that will inconvenience and annoy its users.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.