Facebook gets into texting game with Facebook Messenger

Facebook has already started to supplant traditional email providers as a dominant way that people communicate online. And now the social networking giant is poised to delve even deeper into users’ messaging activity with a new mobile app with SMS-like functionality.

On Tuesday, Facebook is launching a mobile app for iPhone and Android that allows users to send and receive real-time messages. Dubbed Facebook Messenger, it’s the first standalone app to be launched by the company aside from the general purpose apps Facebook has for various mobile devices.

The development of the Facebook Messenger app has been headed up by the founding team of Beluga, a group text messaging service acquired by Facebook in March. Beluga’s founders Ben Davenport, Lucy Zhang and Jonathan Perlow told me in an interview Tuesday morning that they have been working on Facebook Messenger essentially since they joined the company after the Beluga deal, with help from the entire existing Facebook Messaging team.

The app works like this: After downloading the app to your mobile phone, you sign in using your Facebook credentials. The app is essentially an extension of Facebook messages, so all of your texts, chats, emails and message history are all within one place — synced across mobile and web. The app can be used to send messages to groups or individuals, and messages can include location information and attachments such as photos.

To me, the coolest part of the app is that it can deliver messages through app notifications and SMS texts, so you can communicate with your friends whether they have the Messenger app or not. Facebook Messenger will be available in the US and Canada starting Tuesday, and will roll out in other regions “shortly,” Davenport said.

As far as Facebook strategy goes, this is a huge move for the company. Om has written here before that Facebook’s future depends on how it can become more fully ingratiated with its users through mobile. While Facebook has become a big part of people’s mobile activity already, the launch of Facebook Messenger shows that the company is willing to make major investments in its mobile growth for the months and years ahead.

Here are some screenshots of Facebook Messenger for iPhone (click to enlarge):