Surprise, surprise: Here's a new way Facebook is trying to control its users

The social network is requiring that mobile users install Messenger for chatting. Don't like it? Too bad!

Published July 29, 2014 5:50PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Stephen Lam)
(Reuters/Stephen Lam)

The joy of being a de facto monopoly: What Facebook wants, Facebook gets. On Monday, Facebook announced that this week the company would start forcing mobile users who want to chat with their friends to install a stand-alone Messenger app. And there's not a darn thing anyone can do about it but complain.

The news was not a surprise. In April, Facebook made clear the company's strategic goal was to push users into multiple Facebook-owned "properties," rather than give them everything and the kitchen sink inside a single, all-purpose app. As the New York Times' Farhad Manjoo reported then, Mark Zuckerberg believes that there is "a big premium on creating single-purpose, first-class experiences."

But the premium is all for Zuckerberg and Facebook, not for users. A stand-alone app offers new opportunities to monetize customer interactions, ward off competitive threats from other messaging services, and ensure that valuable smartphone real estate is dominated by Facebook. All of those things are good for Facebook, but it's not at all clear what their utility is for us. The very fact that Facebook has decided that migration is mandatory is revealing: If Facebook Messenger offered an intrinsically better or more useful service than Facebook itself, wouldn't we be choosing to use it of our own volition?

But Facebook has an abysmal track record at getting users to adopt such Facebook spinoffs as Facebook Home or Facebook Paper. Therefore, this time around, we have been given no choice in the matter whatsoever -- aside from the apocalyptic step of leaving Facebook altogether. And that's something many of us are loath to do because the large networks of friends and family we connect with on Facebook is difficult to replicate on other services. So we're stuck.

Meanwhile Facebook marches on. Last Wednesday, Facebook reported blowout earnings, exceeding Wall Street analyst expectations for the fifth consecutive quarter. Mobile ad revenue alone reached $1.68 billion. Facebook's stock price promptly hit an all-time high.

With numbers like that, Facebook can afford to ignore any grumbling at its unilateral design decisions. So go ahead: Install Messenger. Resistance is, well, you know.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Apps Chat Facebook Mark Zuckerberg Messaging Messenger Mobile