Facebook says it’s automatically removing all messaging functionality from its mobile apps for iOS and Android, instead forcing users to download and install the separate Facebook Messenger app in order to be able to send private messages to their friends. It’s far from the first time Facebook has made such a threat, as it’s been pushing the widely unpopular Messenger on users all year. But this time Mark Zuckerberg and company have begun actually removing the messaging feature from the Facebook app for some users, and the outrage is exploding across the internet. I give it a week before Facebook backs down.
For reasons which aren’t clear to anyone outside Facebook headquarters, the company has decided that having a commanding dominance of social networking isn’t enough. Instead the company has decided that it can only continue to grow if it splits the basic functionality of its mobile app across two or more different apps, forcing users to jump back and forth between one app to read status updates and post comments and pictures, and another app to send or receive messages. It goes against one of the primary reasons most people have gravitated toward Facebook to begin with: you can do so much under one roof, within one app, without the distraction of having app-hop.
This is far from the first time Facebook has tried to force unwanted changes down the throats of its users. Typically the feedback has been so overwhelmingly negative that the company ends up backing down, apologizing, and giving users some other things they’ve been asking for just to make up for the error. Over the years that’s included privacy invasions, absurd interface changes, and other things that suggest the Facebook boardroom has no idea what its users truly want from the social network.
More recently it began nudging users toward installing Facebook Messenger, and then once it was installed, sabotaging the messaging functionality within the user’s primary Facebook app, on both iOS and Android. Word quickly spread that users simply needed to delete the superfluous Messenger app, and the primary Facebook app became fully functional again. But this time Facebook has decided to throw down the gauntlet by simply crippling its own app. The scary part: those who have lost their messaging functionality today are running the same app version as everyone else, meaning the sabotage isn’t being done via voluntary software update but instead on the back end. That means users can’t even stick with the old version of the app until Facebook realizes it’s made yet another unpopular move that it’ll have to retract.
Facebook has become so dominant that the only thing that can weaken its position at this point is if it makes a point of ticking off its users so egregiously that large chunks of them decide to exit en masse to whatever competing social networks might be available. The gradual forcing of the widely unpopular Facebook Messenger on users over the past year has been precisely the kind of move that could cause Facebook’s popularity to unravel. Today’s move of sabotaging its own official app in order to force users to install Messenger is the kind of move that calls into serious question whether Facebook’s leaders have become so reckless that the company’s future can no longer be considered safe.