How Facebook Messenger clawed its way to 1 billion users

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Facebook’s gamble of forcing users to download Messenger has paid off. Regardless of the backlash, Messenger has doubled its consumer rely in 20 months to attain the one billion user mark five years after its debut. Messenger joins Facebook, its acquisition WhatsApp and Google’s YouTube within the billion user mobile consumer membership.

The app has racked up another spectacular stats. Every month, 17 billion pictures are despatched and 1 billion messages cross between individuals and companies, 380 million stickers and 22 million GIFs are despatched every day and 10 % of all VoIP calls undergo Messenger. Messenger’s new platform now has 18,000 bots, and 23,000 builders have signed up for Facebook’s Bot Engine.

Hitting the 1-billion-consumer milestone might assist Facebook appeal to manufacturers and builders to Messenger’s platform. In the meantime, its mounting ubiquity signifies that every further consumer makes the app extra engaging to others who nonetheless may be utilizing SMS or a competitor.

Nobody does network impact fairly like Facebook.

Facebook Messenger Team

David Marcus and Mark Zuckerberg lead a cheer with the Messenger staff, organized to appear to be its emblem

Messenger initially launched as a re-skinned version of Beluga, a 3-individual chat app startup constructed by ex-Googlers that Facebook acquired in March 2011. Beluga co-founder Lucy Zhang tells me “It was very exhausting to think about we’d get to 1 billion individuals, however we knew we needed it to. That was our imaginative and prescient. We needed everybody on the earth to join this way.”

“You’d assume everybody would bounce up and rejoice these things,” Facebook’s present head of Messenger David Marcus tells me. “However there’s virtually extra of an enormous sense of duty to serve these individuals, to construct the correct issues and do it nicely, and do it in a way that helps them of their on a regular basis life.”

There will probably be one little celebration everybody can take part in, although. Ship a balloon emoji on Facebook and also you’ll see the screen mild up to commemorate the announcement.

MEssenger Evolution

Child steps to a billion

Zhang and Marcus inform me Messenger’s ascent has been the results of fixed iteration on the whole lot from flashy features to accessibility initiatives to boring however crucial efficiency enhancements. Right here’s a timeline of crucial strikes that obtained it this far:


Beluga Screenshot

Beluga had “pods,” not “teams”

Again in 2010, group chat was on the rise, however SMS was horrible at it. After being conceived at a TeknoHopper Disrupt hackathon, mobile app GroupMe started to achieve traction. However it relied closely on costly SMS relatively than native apps.

Beluga was based in July 2010 to focus on chat over knowledge. By December, it was gaining steam. Zhang says, “It got here out of our personal want and our personal wanting to keep shut with our associates.” On the time, Facebook Chat was extra of an asynchronous messaging service buried inside its clunky mobile apps. Sensing the chance for a devoted product, Facebook acquired Beluga in March 2011.

Messenger v1

“We spent three to 4 months heads-down making an attempt to launch the primary version of Messenger,” Zhang recollects. On the time, the Messenger staff was simply her, her co-founders Jonathan Perlow (nonetheless at Facebook) and Ben Davenport, plus one engineer, one product supervisor and one designer.

Messenger launched in August 2011, centered round fast cross-platform supply of messages whether or not recipients have been on desktop or mobile. It touted few of the shiny features in Messenger as we speak apart from photo and site sharing. A yr later it launched read-receipts to make chat extra like speaking face-to-face.

V1 of Messenger (left) vs its modern design (right)

V1 of Messenger (left) versus the fashionable design (proper)

As Facebook’s first separate app, it will quickly show the worth of streamlined mobile merchandise that nail one essential feature.

Messenger nevertheless

Quickly Facebook honed in on a strategy to make Messenger massive. It might add extra flexibility so you possibly can talk nevertheless you needed. Via 2012 and 2013, it began to drop the requirement to have a Facebook account to use Messenger. It allow you to contact people via SMS with their phone quantity when you weren’t Facebook pals. It launched VoIP audio calling because it started its bid to substitute your default phone communication instruments. And it started distancing the design of Messenger from Facebook correct, giving it a cleaner design for velocity and ease.

Facebook Messenger Redesign

Messenger will get its personal id with massive redesign

Pressured migration

Messenger forced migrationProgress was sluggish these preliminary three years. However simply earlier than saying Messenger had hit 200 million users in April 2014, Facebook rattled its group with a heavy-handed announcement: It will remove chat from its main app, forcing people to download Messenger as an alternative. The rhetoric was that you simply and your folks would reply quicker and be much less probably to miss messages in the event you had a devoted app.

Individuals have been pissed. They accused Facebook of robust-arming them into letting it dominate their residence screens. Why ought to they be required to have two Facebook apps once they have been doing high-quality with only one? Messenger turned the No. 1 app within the app retailer regardless of a 1-star common review.

However by liberating Messenger from the bloated Facebook app, the corporate would quickly give you the option to pack it filled with new features. And ultimately, users got here round. They discovered themselves opening Messenger increasingly more ceaselessly in way that might have been annoyingly cumbersome if it had to be dug out of the primary app. Messenger rocketed to 500 million users by November 2014.

The necessity for velocity

Whereas it didn’t draw a lot consideration, in late 2014 Facebook accomplished a significant engineering upgrade for Messenger. On the scale of billions of messages despatched, even shaving milliseconds off their supply makes an enormous distinction. In additional colourful language than I’ll publish, Marcus tells me the workforce invested A LOT of time into efficiency and reliability to scale back finish-to-finish latency. It was his first undertaking after leaving his role as president of PayPal to lead Messenger.


To make it crystal clear the place your message was, Messenger launched little circles subsequent to the messages. Empty means sending, empty however checked means despatched, crammed in and checked means delivered to the recipient and their face within the bubble means they’ve seen it. Once more, this appears minor, however it eradicated the anomaly that plagues SMS — which was rising as Messenger’s true competitor after Facebook acquired WhatsApp earlier in 2014.

Apps and video

2015 was the yr Messenger turned extra than simply chat. It was an effort to make SMS look archaic, and get individuals to stay extra of their lives via the modernized Messenger. With video taking off in all places, however video chat choices like FaceTime or Google Hangouts restricted to sure platforms, Messenger launched video chat. Marcus cites it as a driver of progress that turns Messenger right into a extra multi-faceted communication device that may exchange your phone.


Messenger’s VP of product Stan Chudnovsky demos video chat


Facebook launched a Venmo-esque friend-to-friend payments option. And at F8, Facebook unveiled the Messenger platform. Beginning with content material sharing apps like Giphy, the platform ultimately blossomed to embody Uber hailing and airline customer support. By 2016, chatbot developers and news publishers would leap aboard Messenger. In the meantime, Facebook courted companies, poising Messenger as a contemporary various to irritating touchtone phone timber for customer support.

Messenger platform

Messenger platform

A utility, not a toy

Whereas individuals are nonetheless getting accustomed to chatbots , Messenger has lately refocused on making itself a critical connection utility for the entire planet. “We assume that everyone has their very own phone… however that’s not true in all elements of the world,” says Marcus. He chalks up some current progress to the launch of account switching, so relations sharing a single phone within the creating world can all use Messenger.

To exchange your phone quantity, Messenger launched Message Requests, a gatekeeper that permits anybody to message anybody however that filters pings from strangers right into a holding pen. New Messenger usernames, shortlinks and QR codes make discovering everybody easy.


Collectively, these characterize a elementary transition from needing a devoted, arbitrary piece of “contact info” to attain somebody, to unlocking communication based mostly on extensively used names alone. For higher or worse, this eliminates the necessity for a clumsy request for somebody’s phone quantity, and as an alternative empowers the recipient to block anybody they don’t need to speak to.

Hoping to drive a nail within the coffin of SMS, which has been in decline, Facebook lately started permitting Android users to set it as their default text messaging app. And simply this month, Facebook started providing end-to-end encryption “secret messaging” for transmissions requiring additional safety.


The way forward for Messenger

With these regular advances, Facebook Messenger has outpaced its mobile app rivals. KakaoTalk has greater than 50 million users, Kik has one hundred seventy five million and LINE has 218 million. Messenger’s opposition now principally boils down to WeChat’s 762 million users in China, the place Messenger can’t function, and Snapchat’s one hundred fifty million day by day users, who're principally involved with photo messaging and Story sharing slightly than core utility.

That leaves Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp to dominate the straight-up chat recreation outdoors of China, apart from one resilient foe: SMS. Marcus concludes that for Facebook to beat the unique texting normal, it should obtain absolute ubiquity. In any other case, even a single good friend holding out on Messenger will lure you again into iMessage or the default Android messaging system.

David Marcus and Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg and David Marcus


“If there’s a reasonably high proportion of individuals that you really want to speak to which are on one platform and also you don’t want a phone quantity however yow will discover them by identify and you may ship extra issues and go stay with audio and video,” Marcus believes, “it’s turning into an necessary communication software for the world.”

When it comes to what Messenger wants now, Marcus says “The most important factor is time. You want individuals to begin shifting how they’re excited about Messenger. For lots of people, it’s the way you message your Facebook pals you don’t have the phone quantity for. We have a number of work to do to shift the mindsets of over 1 billion individuals. However progressively, the numbers are pointing in the appropriate path.”

By no means earlier than in human historical past have so many souls been so vividly related free of charge. One billion individuals can immediately talk with one another with out something however a reputation and web entry. Worry has traditionally been a by-product of separation, the unknown. However with Messenger, we will all get to know one another somewhat extra simply.


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