Two months after Facebook began forcing users to install the separate Messenger app in order to send and receive private messages, it’s still not clear what Mark Zuckerberg and company were intending to accomplish. Various rumors have begun floating the notion that it’s somehow about mobile payments, and while that makes no sense at all, it makes about as much sense as any other explanation. The Messenger app is, objectively speaking, garbage: its interface seems half finished, you can’t even do basic things like include text and a photo in the same message without going through contortions, and the experience is a major step backwards from when messaging was still inside the main app. Today I made an offhand Facebook post complaining about how awful Messenger is, and the feedback I got was surprising: a good percentage of my Facebook friends say they still refuse to install it.
At some point every tech dynasty becomes so entrenched in a given market that no outside entity can do much to topple it, as we’ve seen this week with the much hyped launch of the Ello social network making a big fat zero-sized dent in the Facebook machine.
But such a dynasty can still be toppled by its own internal mistakes. Messenger, or at least the forcing of Messenger on those of us who didn’t want it, feels like it has the potential to be one of those dynasty-imperiling mistakes.
Facebook tried to push Messenger on its users voluntarily, and that failed for two obvious reasons. First, again, the app is a hunk of junk even by Facebook’s very weak app development standards. The second is that the typical user wants nothing to do with using hopping back and forth between two separate apps when a single app was already performing both tasks just fine.
So instead of taking the hint, Facebook decided to sabotage its own app by removing messages entirely. While the backlash in the tech headlines was short lived, it’s clear now that the “actions speak louder than words” backlash in the form of users scaling back from the Facebook experience altogether is still getting underway.
Various Facebook friends made clear to me that they refuse to install Messenger. Some say they use their mobile web browser to check their messages instead, a silly idea considering how primitive that experience is, but a strong act of defiance nonetheless.
Others tell me they’ve given up on Facebook mobile messaging entirely, and now wait til they get home before looking at their Facebook messages. I’m not sure I understand users cutting themselves off from their friends in that manner, but again, it’s an act of defiance which not only keeps Facebook from achieving whatever double-secret goal it’s working towards here, it’s also causing those users to use Facebook less.
It sets up a prime landscape for a competing platform to begin stealing away the messaging market, and then use that beachhead as a way of stealing away the social network market entirely. The door for the competition is only open a few millimeters, but it’s Facebook itself who has opened that door. We still have no idea why. But there’s growing evidence that the cost might be a lot higher than Facebook was naively expecting.