Starting this week, to check Facebook messages on your phone, you'll need to download Messenger, the company's standalone chat app. This is part of a bigger Facebook strategy to create many standalone mobile apps. That might make sense for Facebook, but it sucks for you.
That specific change isn't all bad. Messenger is easier to use than manually tapping around your Facebook app to find the message inbox. But that ease comes at a cost: It takes away choice. You have to download a separate app. Pushing messages out of Facebook's main app forces people to carry two apps on their phones or tablets to have the full Facebook experience.
And that's just the beginning.
The great unbundling
Facebook's flashiest purchases have been apps, or related to the company's strategy to become King O' The Apps. Buying Instagram and WhatsApp gave Facebook power over two enormously popular mobile services. Oculus technology will almost certainly figure into future apps. Facebook has no qualms about vomiting money at app startups because apps are the cornerstone of the company's mobile strategy.
And what it can't acquire, it creates. Failing to bring Snapchat's disappearing photos into under its expansive wing, Facebook released a clone called Slingshot. An attempt to capitalize on Flipboard's potential yielded Paper, a beautiful app that was ultimately not attractive enough to convince people to download yet another Facebook service.
Nobody wants to fill their phone with multiple Facebook apps. I was cool with one, and I'm sure I'm not alone. Separate apps gobble memory. The more Facebook-spinoff and Facebook-owned apps we download, the less room there is for anything else.
This is not an accident. Facebook's unbundling strategy is partly because the primary app is too overpacked to work well on mobile, yes. It's also because Facebook wants to dominate the app ecosystem, and it's way easier to do that with a bunch of popular apps than one. Facebook Home may not have been a hit, but its underlying goal of total phone takeover remains. Shuttling you over to Messenger is just the beginning.
It's only going to get worse
Facebook will colonize your entire app collection if possible. That is a good plan for Facebook, the business! Very smart. Someone probably went to Wharton. But spinning services out into as many standalone apps as possible (and/or buying up the competition) makes your life a whole lot more annoying.
There's the whole memory issue, but that's not the biggest problem. Even if you get a phone with 700GB just ready to fill up with apps, having to juggle a legion of Facebook apps would still make your app experience worse.
Part of the reason Facebook is so successful is because it's a one-stop social network. It's a good thing that we can comment on a photo, post on a wall, and privately message friends all in one place. Dismantling sucks its core value away. Instead of going there, we'll have to open four different apps to do what we used to do on one. Splintering services out to standalone apps will make the Facebook experience more convoluted, not less.
And it's not like the apps themselves are very good in the first place. Paper was pretty, but no one used it. Messenger really doesn't need to exist; though it's not objectionable, Facebook could've simplified the process of accessing messages within the main app and called it a day. Slingshot, Poke, and Facebook Camera are all weak. Facebook is pouring resources into developing non-shitty standalones, when it could be using those resources to improve the quality of its existing app, making it less overwhelming without breaking it into pieces. But that is the less lucrative strategy. More apps mean more ads. More apps mean less room for competitors. One thing more apps does not mean? A better user experience.
No one is forcing anyone to download Facebook's apps, but this strategy will impact even the curmudgeonly app users who have already deleted all of Facebook's offerings. There are plenty of competitors who offer similar services. But Facebook is the most dominant mobile app company. People are watching what it does, and some of those people make apps. Other services are already following Facebook's example; Foursquare recently split itself in two. If Facebook succeeds at unbundling, it could cause an industry-wide ripple effect. Suddenly we may have Instagram Photo and Instagram Video, two separate apps. Snapchat Stories could get its own app real estate.
Facebook's plan could turn into a lucrative and well-trodden path. But it's going to make our app lives a fractured little nightmare.
Image credit: AP Images