Facebook Messenger is a nifty communication tool for Facebook users. Like the site’s previous instant messaging tools, it allows users to get up-to-the-minute updates about their friends and interact with them on an ongoing basis - and, in the recent standalone version for Windows, stay connected without having to keep a Facebook window open. So is this yet another instant messaging function to add the pile, or does Facebook Messenger offer something different? (Concerned that too much Facebook time is putting you at risk? Read 7 Signs of a Facebook Scam.)

What Is Facebook Messenger?

Facebook Messenger allows a user to instantly send a chat message to friends on Facebook - and access messages and the Facebook News Feed in near real time.

The mobile app, Messenger for Mobile, is a free, standalone app for Android phones, iPhones, iPads or BlackBerry devices that can be accessed by visiting http://fb.me/msgr on your mobile device, or downloading the app. More recently, Facebook Messenger also includes a desktop version for Windows. Either way, because it is a standalone app, it eliminates the steps users used to have to take to access Facebook's most prominent features.

Flavors of Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger comes in a few key versions for iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows users. At the time of writing, Facebook expects to produce a version for Macs as well, although no official date for the release of this version has been announced.

When Facebook first launched Messenger in 2011, it only had support for the iPhone, Android devices and BlackBerry. But in December 2011, Facebook announced that it would also be launching a Facebook Messenger app for Windows. Many users already keep Facebook open for long periods of time in a separate browser tab; Facebook Messenger allows them to connect with their friends on Facebook without opening the website.

In its essence, Facebook Messenger isn't that different from the chat bar you have on Facebook. Plus, clicking on any posts on the feed takes users to the main Facebook site anyway. In other words, the key goal for Facebook chat is to increase user engagement and keep them plugged in to Facebook as much as possible. As for instant messaging, Facebook Messenger is a pretty pared down version of many existing services.

Facebook Messenger's Key Qualities

On the other hand, Facebook Messenger isn't getting buzz for nothing - it does have some key benefits, particularly for Facebook power users. These include:

  • Mobile Notifications
    Facebook Messenger provides users with mobile notifications or alerts every time a message comes in. This means users never need to check the app when they're expecting a message.

  • Group Conversations
    Facebook Messenger makes it possible for users to quickly connect with friends from any location. It has a group conversation feature that allows users to communicate with several people through a single message. Group conversations can even be differentiated and personalized by assigning them a name and even attaching a photo.

  • Integration with Users' Phones
    Users are not limited to interacting with their Facebook friends; they can also add people from a mobile phone's address book on an Android phone or iPhone. These recipients will receive messages as a text message.

    If a recipient is part of a group conversation and does not have a Facebook account, he or she will get a list of people included in the conversation as part of the text message. If he or she replies, everybody in the group conversation gets a copy of that reply. To make it easier, the mobile phone recipient will also get a list of text commands to use when replying.

  • Integration With Other Facebook features
    Facebook Messenger is fully integrated with Facebook Chat and Facebook Messages. After the app is installed, it will import all the Facebook user's existing chats and messages.

  • Location Mapping
    For those using an iPhone or Android phone, they can also provide their location to people they interact with through Facebook. This can make it easier for Facebook users to catch up with their friends in real time. Don't worry: The feature can be de-activated for those who are concerned about their privacy.

  • Message Control
    So far, Facebook Messenger sounds like it could lead to information overload for users. Fortunately, users can "mute" any Facebook friends or conversations to prevent this.

Does Facebook Messenger Have Something New to Offer?

The problem with instant messaging is that there are really a lot of flavors coming out. There are so many instant messaging clients available, whether as stand-alone or multi-platform systems, or those that work on iOS, Android and other operating systems.

So how to judge Facebook Messenger? Do you take a look at its features or how people use it? Let’s see how Facebook Messenger stacks up against other similar stand-alone instant messengers.

Client Real-Time Photo Sharing Real-Time Video Sharing Video Messages Emoticons,
Personal Settings
Voice Calls
Google Talk No No No Yes Yes
Yahoo Messenger Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Windows Live Messenger Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Skype No No No Yes Yes
Facebook Messenger Yes No No Yes No

It's easy to see that Facebook Messenger is rather limited when it comes to its instant messaging features. Does this make Facebook Messenger a loser in its space? Not really. There are two reasons why Facebook Messenger could prove to have an edge:

  1. It uses the capabilities of smartphones to its own advantage
    If you take a look at the features that Facebook Messenger does have, they have taken advantage of what smartphones can do. Facebook Messenger doesn't have a lot of features, but it does have the ones that make sense to the smartphone user.

  2. It extends the Facebook network into a companion app
    Facebook has close to 1 billion users now, and it's safe to say that if you're on Facebook, may of your friends are too. Facebook made use of this to make sure that its Messenger service is relevant and functional. Honestly, an instant messenger client can have all the bells and whistles on it and put up a lot of features, but if your friends aren't there, it isn't much of a party. Facebook Messenger allows users to connect with their Facebook friends and other contacts in their mobile contact list. This ensures that users can access everyone who matters to them through this app.

What's Really Important in Instant Messaging

The only essence of a good instant messenger is that it allows users to communicate conveniently and easily with contacts. Facebook recognized that without friends, users would have no one to communicate with. As a result, it kept its features to a bare minimum, keeping only those that allow Facebook users to connect with each other. Facebook Messenger may not be revolutionary, but the network of people it's designed for certainly has the clout to make this instant messaging service stand out.