People don’t tend to think of Facebook as a major playing in the instant messaging market, but the company has just announced an update to its Facebook Messenger IM app that will make it easier for users in India, Indonesia, Australia, Venezuela, and South Africa using just their names and a phone number.
Previously, Facebook messenger sign-ups have required an email address. And while that’s a fair expectation for Facebook to have for American users, internet penetration is lower in countries like India and Indonesia, and user habits are also different. Many users don’t have regular email accounts, and instead communicate via text messages, IM apps, and VoIP phone calls (among other things). By removing the email account requirement in these countries, Facebook has made it very quick and easy for users to sign-up, and it’s likely that the move will lead to increased use of Facebook Messenger. Facebook hopes that increased use of Messenger will make users more interested in signing up for a full Facebook account, too.
That said, the app still faces tough competition from players that already have a firm grip on the instant messaging market. In Indonesia, for example, Facebook will have to take on BlackBerry Messenger as well as newcomers like WeChat that have been gaining ground fast. The move to make Facebook Messenger easier to sign up for is a savvy one, but it may prove to have been too little too late in some or all of the countries Facebook is targeting with this change. (Interestingly, there are rumors afoot that Facebook is interested in buying Whatsapp, and if that did happen, it would put the company in a much stronger competitive positon. But since Whatsapp has denied the rumor, that seems to be strictly a hypothetical scenario for now).
If you don’t live in India, Indonesia, Australia, Venezuela, or South Africa, it looks like for now you’re stuck with the old sign-up process. But if this current initiative works out and Facebook user numbers rise in some of those countries, it’s very possible Facebook could choose to expand the new sign-up rules to other countries, too.