With three major social networks out there now (Google+, Facebook, and Twitter), I find myself explaining the difference between Facebook and the others more often than ever. How Twitter is best for real time sharing en masse; how Facebook focuses on personal relationships; and how Google+ allows you to create small communities out of the people you know for “know your audience”-style sharing.
Since Google+ entered the ring, Facebook has been feeling the pressure to step its game up. They launched video chat with Skype from within Facebook, no extras needed. Most recently, they’ve launched Facebook Messenger, an app that makes it easy to communicate with Facebook (and non-Facebook) friends to really build those personal relationships.
What Is Facebook Messenger?
Facebook Messenger is an app for Android (and iOS) that allows you to contact your friends through mobile IM, Facebook Chat, and SMS. Other features of the app include group chat, push notifications, and the ability to share photos or your location.
The first thing you’ll notice after downloading the app is that if you have the official Facebook app, you won’t need to log in separately; Facebook Messenger sees that you’re logged in already.
You used to have to log in separately, but Facebook’s latest update changed that. If you have Messenger, I suggest you update it!
Login and Contact List
(note: Messenger does show the users’ profile pictures, but I’ve removed them from my friends for privacy’s sake.)
After logging in, you will see a list of any messages and chat conversations you’ve held on Facebook. With Facebook’s new web-based messaging, there is no longer differentiation between chat and messages. They are all considered messages. From Messenger, you can continue the conversation through either of these.
Simply press one of the conversations in the list to go to the chat screen for that conversation. From here you’ll see the most recent messages, a way to send text, images, and your location, and a settings button unique to that particular conversation. This screen, as well as the app overall, is really well designed and very clean.
Single Chat and Settings
Pressing the Settings button for a single conversation will allow you to manage alerts for that conversation and add more people (via either chat or SMS — more on that later). For the alerts, you can choose from On, Off for 1 Hour, Off Until 8am, and Off. I think this was a pretty nice touch by the people at Facebook; I’d imagine a frequent request for this young app is the ability to specify a time to turn alerts back on. I would definitely like to see that.
On top of alerts and adding people, you can also view a map of locations posted by the participants.
You can also start new conversations using the icon in the top right corner of the home screen. Since we already saw how a one-on-one chat works, let’s take a look a group chats.
When adding people to a conversation, start typing in a name and Facebook Messenger will suggest people that either have Messenger (and are logged in) or people from your contacts list, who get added as SMS recipients; it’s worth noting that you can mix and match chat and SMS recipients (which is super cool). There is no advertised limit to the number of people you can add, but I’m sure as the number grows you’ll see some performance issues.
Group Chat and Settings
When you send a message to a group of mixed recipients (that is, using FB Chat and SMS), Facebook handles sending everything out as well as displaying incoming messages all in one place. It doesn’t rely on your phone’s SMS app at all, so you won’t see a list of text messages next time you open up Android’s Messaging app. What’s really cool is Messenger will also send incoming SMS messages to the other SMS recipients. For example, if Amy starts a conversation with Bobby, Chis, and Dana, and Chris and Dana are using SMS, Messenger will make sure Chris gets Dana’s SMS messages, and vise versa. I thought this was a nice touch, and incredibly important to making group chat work well.
I did notice that if you start a conversation on Facebook Chat and then use Messenger to add people via SMS, the person on Facebook chat will not receive mobile messages unless he also has Messenger. This is probably a very rare use case I came across, and there’s not a lot Facebook can do about it at any rate.
Group chat allows you all of the functionality of one on one chat, including messages, sharing locations, and sending photos. This functionality is MUCH better than most stock SMS apps, since if you send a message to multiple people, you will get individual responses back. I can definitely see Messenger being used most to coordinate and make plans with several people at one time.
The settings for group chat are the same as the settings for one on one, except that you can also add a title to the group, as well as customize the photo. If you don’t select a photo, Messenger will make a grid of everyone’s photos to display on the list of conversations.
Settings and Other Features
On top of continuing conversations and starting new ones, as long as you’re logged in to Messenger, you’ll get notifications for any new conversations started by your friends. This can be changed in Settings.
Until recently, while you were logged in to Messenger, you would only get notification of new chats on your phone, not on your computer. It looks like they fixed this in later versions of the app.
The settings for Messenger are pretty standard; you can turn all alerts on or off, and choose between being alerted through sound, vibrate, blinking light, or some combination of the three, as well as what sound you’d like to hear. You can also turn location sharing on or off, which you can do for each individual message by pressing the blue arrow in the text box for a conversation.
There are also a couple of advanced settings: Clear image cache and Clear conversation cache. I imagine these two functions will free up some memory on your phone, although it may take a bit longer to load a conversation next time you enter a chat you’ve previously entered.
It may also use more data if you clear the caches frequently since your phone will need to download everything again.
Overall, I think this is a pretty nice app. It’s really nicely designed and the group chat alone is worth the download. I’m in New York and during the hurricane, I was able to talk to all of my brothers (I have three spread throughout the east coast) in one conversation and send them some photos of what’s happening at home.
I would like to see some improvements to the alerts — especially more customization for when you can turn alerts back on. While Messenger offers some nice options, specifying a time would be great, particularly if you have class or a meeting you need to go to.
All in all, Facebook did a nice job here and I can’t wait to see future iterations of this still very new app.