Remember when a few years ago, Facebook forced us all to download the standalone Messenger app to chat with friends? It appears it’s now backtracking on that and looking to roll chats back into the main Facebook app.
In a tweet, app researcher Jane Manchun Wong uploaded a screenshot of the new integrated chat function. In the top right corner, you can see the same Messenger icon that brings you to a chat window right in the main app itself. Right now, if you want to chat via Facebook on mobile, the app will immediately switch you over to Messenger or prompt you to download it if you don’t have it already.
This all tracks with recent news that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to roll Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger into a single platform. The New York Times cited sources within Facebook as saying that while the services will remain as their own apps, the tech behind all three will be unified. In any case, the Times report hints that integrating all three messenger services is a big priority for Facebook in 2019, as Zuckerberg is reportedly pushing for the unification to be done by the end of this year or early 2020.
It’s possible that rolling chat back into the main Facebook app is part of this effort, though it’s not clear if or when it will roll out to the general public. Gizmodo reached out to Facebook for comment but did not immediately receive a response.
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At the very least, Facebook testing this feature out gives us a peek into how Zuck’s mind has changed with regard to messaging and Facebook’s “family of apps” overall. Back in 2014, he explained the forced move to a standalone Messenger app was because, “On mobile, each app can only focus on doing one thing well, we think. ... The primary purpose of the Facebook app is News Feed.”
Clearly, this vision of one app, one purpose has shifted since Facebook’s acquired both Instagram and WhatsApp. Initially, Zuckerberg promised that Instagram and WhatsApp would remain independent. Since then, Instagram’s and WhatsApp’s founders have all departed—rather abruptly—after Zuckerberg started weighing in more. And, given all the bad press following Facebook’s seemingly never-ending series of scandals, lumping all these apps together might be a ploy at keeping users locked in and engaged.