Facebook Messenger hits 500 million users, targets the big billion next

One of the biggest changes to Messenger this year wasn't just the stand-alone app, but also a new head: former PayPal CEO David Marcus.

Facebook's Messenger app had some big news this week. The app, despite all the recent criticism over privacy, has managed to cross 500 million users, a big number especially when you consider that Facebook already has 1 billion users. Facebook's Messenger is now officially in the same league as WhatsApp (recently bought by Facebook), Line and WeChat.

In a recent investor call, Zuckerberg pointed out, “One big priority for us here is messaging, and continuing to build and grow Messenger and now WhatsApp as well, as great services… SMS and WhatsApp are more for real-time activity. People have contacts on WhatsApp who they wouldn’t want to make friends on Facebook. The graphs are somewhat different."

In fact one of the biggest changes to Messenger this year wasn't just the stand-alone app, but also a new head: former PayPal CEO David Marcus. In an exclusive interview to Wired Magazine's Jessi Hempel, Marcus spells out the next plan of action for Facebook Messenger: One billion users.

He also discussed how the plan is to make 'Messenger into something far more than a messenger,' with Voice-over-IP calls, online payments, etc. Recently, a series of leaks had showcased how users will soon be able to accept help in the form of cash from a friend or a relative with Facebook Messenger.

The screenshots, which were leaked by Stanford computer science student Andrew Aude, discovered that the system is already in place on the company’s iOS app. According to the screenshots posted by Aude, the app will require you to register a debit or credit card with Facebook before transferring money to your contacts.

As the Wired piece notes, VOIP calls isn't exactly new territory for Marcus who started at age 23 started a "Swiss telecom operator called GTN Telecom, which provided local and long distance calling as well as internet access." Interestingly Marcus' next big venture was Zong, which offered mobile payments via "direct billing to your mobile phone." PayPal then bought this company over and Marcus joined as a vice-President in 2011.

So why did Marcus leave PayPal? He told Wired, “It wasn’t a creative thing to do. You were fixing things rather than building things.” Marcus also defended the decision to force people to download Messenger, saying “Adults don’t download apps anymore...so if we didn’t do this, there’s no way people would give it a try.”

Marcus and his team are exploring various new features with the product. One such that he showed to Hempel during the interview was the ability to know when a Message has been received, and read. WhatsApp recently introduce two blue ticks to confirm that a Message had been read.  Another idea that could soon happen was getting direct messages to users from businesses, although not everyone might end up being a fan of this feature should it be introduced.

Where Messenger is concerned, it has come a long, long way from how it began. Initially in 2011 and 2010, when the smartphone revolution was just taking app, chat was one of the worst things about Facebook (desktop) and the Messenger app was even worse. With the latest app things, a lot has changed for the better.

Not only has Facebook managed to get users to download the app (you can't access chat at all from the Facebook app like you could in the past, a move that has angered users) but introduced features like sharing photos, stickers, video, audio, etc to make the app much more competitive. And thankfully it doesn't keep crashing anymore.

But given how Facebook has been evolving (they went from a terrible mobile strategy to calling themselves a mobile company), it's clear that Zuckerberg has big plans with Messenger. Now with Marcus joining the team, it shouldn't be surprising to see Messenger get a lot more new features.



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