Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained that the social networking giant forced users of its main mobile application to download a separate Messenger app for messaging because it felt that apps should do one thing well and users could be better served by having a standalone messaging app that performed that function well.
The change, which went into effect over the summer, caused a backlash among users, who felt annoyed at having to download another app in order to use what had been one of the core features of Facebook's main app. (As things stand, Facebook counted 703 million mobile daily active users on average as of Sept. 30, an increase of 39 percent year-over-year, so the change didn't exactly hurt that much.)
In a live question-and-answer, town-hall-style meeting, Zuckerberg answered a range of questions, including why he wears the same shirt every day and his thoughts on the movie The Social Network about Facebook's beginnings.
However, Zuckerberg expounded at length about why Facebook pushed users to the Messenger app, noting that the company needs to explain clearly why it is doing things and acknowledging that asking everyone who uses Facebook to download a new app is "a big ask."
"I appreciate that that was work and required friction," he said. "We wanted to do this because we believe that this is a better experience. Messaging is becoming increasingly important. On mobile, each app can only focus on doing one thing well, we think."
Zuckerberg noted the primary purpose of the Facebook app is the News Feed function. He said 10 billion messages are sent per day on Facebook, but in the main app, users were forced to open a new tab to access that messaging function. He also noted that the other top messaging apps in mobile were standalone apps. "These apps ... are fast and just focused on messaging," he said. "You're probably messaging people 15 times per day. Having to go into an app and take a bunch of steps to get to messaging is a lot of friction."
The Facebook chief also noted that messaging is one of the few things people do more than social networking, and that in some countries 85 percent of people are on Facebook but 95 percent of people use SMS or messaging.
"Asking folks to install another app is a short term painful thing, but if we wanted to focus on serving this [use case] well, we had to build a dedicated and focused experience," Zuckerberg said. "We build for the whole community. Why wouldn't we let people choose to install the app on their own at their own pace? The reason is that what we're trying to do is build a service that's good for everyone. Because Messenger is faster and more focused, if you're using it, you respond to messages faster, we've found. If your friends are slower to respond, we might not have been able to meet up."
Zuckerberg added: "This is some of the hardest stuff we do, is making these choices. We realize that we have a lot to earn in terms of trust and proving that this standalone Messenger experience will be really good. We have some of our most talented people working on this."
Facebook recently finished acquiring mobile messaging firm WhatsApp, which currently has more than 600 million monthly active users. Both Zuckerberg and WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum have said Facebook will not add advertising to WhatsApp or try and monetize that user base.
Koum said last month the over-the-top messaging app intends to launch voice calling services in the first quarter of 2015. The company had initially planned to launch calling in the second quarter of 2014.
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