Facebook gets into mobile messaging

Facebook has launched an all-in-one messaging app that blurs the line between social networking and texting.

The standalone app, available for both iPhone and Android handsets, is set-up to be logged into a Facebook account. Users can then send a message to one friend or multiple people at once. To select recipients, the user simply types in the name and the app brings up results from both the phone’s contact list and the user’s Facebook friends list.

The app automatically sends each message through an appropriate medium: if the contact is another Facebook users, it appears as a Facebooks notification; if the contact isn’t on Facebook, it’s sent as a text message. The app also gives the user the ability to see all previous Facebook messages and chat sessions.

Another feature allows users to add their location, which appears on a map viewable by all recipients of the message. Photos can be added in the same way. The idea appears to be that hip young things can see where everyone is hanging out and figure out the best gathering place for the night’s entertainment. (The reality will probably be unwanted updates where your privacy-unaware grandma repeatedly lets the world know she’s at the post office.)

If this sounds at all like BlackBerry’s Messenger service, well, it’s likely no coincidence that the app is known as Facebook Messenger.

The app is being rolled out, starting with the United States. While normally those of us in the UK dislike waiting for things to come across the Atlantic, the delay is probably for the best given BlackBerry Messenger is currently being blamed for allowing rioters to organize groups to a particular location without the messages being publicly available.

It appears the timing of the release of the app may be related to the forthcoming messaging tools in iOS 5, though that service works only with Apple devices. Facebook’s main selling point appears to be that it isn’t platform-dependent.

Facebook announced the new app in a blog post by engineer Lucy Zhang. She created much of the technology used in the app as co-founder of a company named Beluga, which was bought out by Facebook in July.

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