Facebook just checked off another step in its plan to turn Messenger into its own separate service— launching a distinct web version of its messaging app. If you go to Messenger.com today, you’ll see all your Facebook messages without dealing with Newsfeed.
When Facebook spun Messenger off into its own mobile app, it felt like an annoying power play, like the company was pressuring us to download two apps instead of one. But looking back, it’s clear Facebook was laying the groundwork to turn Messenger into a full-fledged platform, complete with a payments service.
I get why this insistence that Messenger be its own thing can still seem obnoxious: Like, you can already read your Facebook messages on the web through the regular old Facebook.com website. (Remember when it was thefacebook.com? ~memories~ and also, I’m old.) And in a way, yes, this is a mostly redundant spin-off and it probably cost Facebook an assload of money to buy Messenger.com. But I’d say that at this point, Messenger is enough of its own thing to warrant a web service.
Plus, Facebook has an assload of money, and it has that dough precisely because of moves like this. Instead of making One App to Rule Them All, Facebook is dividing and conquering. Nowhere is that more clear than Messenger: In increments, Facebook turned a single feature of its core service into a whole separate entity. And as much as social networking is concentrated on mobile right now, rolling out a web version of services is a sign of legitimacy—a sign that something is more than just an app.
Oh, and since you don’t need the Messenger app on your phone to use Messenger.com, this is a way to get a new group of people onto Messenger; even if you don’t have a smartphone, you can use it through any old browser. Including a web version of Messenger sends that signal loud and clear, although the web version is still pretty stripped down—you can’t make calls yet, and you can only use payments if you also have the payment feature on your phone.
Of course, if Facebook does this for every core feature, it’s going to alienate the shit out of its users (I will never-ever-over-Zuck’s-dead-body-ever use an app solely devoted to dumbass Newsfeed). But distilling and then expanding Messenger was a savvy grab to compete with messaging and payment apps. Plus, the stark Messenger.com interface is a nice antidote to Facebook.com’s bloated front page.
Messenger for the web is available for English-speaking users today, and will roll out internationally in the coming weeks. [ Recode]