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Facebook’s new Messenger app for Android phones and iPhones is designed to let groups of people communicate with one another in real time no matter where they are. It’s the first instance in which Facebook has split a core part of its social network from the main product—a move that reflects a shift in how people are using social-media tools.

Messenger lets groups of Facebook users communicate with one another in the moment even if they’re using different communication technologies—for example, with one person using instant messaging, another text, and a third e-mail. Messenger taps into Facebook’s vast supply of data about contacts and connections, including users’ e-mail addresses, instant-message handles, and phone numbers.

Facebook already offers a feature called Groups, which lets people communicate over time about specific topics of interest, and one called Events, which lets them plan social occasions. But these aren’t much good when groups want to communicate on the spur of the moment. “Until recently, you couldn’t do it in real time,” says Lucy Zhang, one of the engineers who built Messenger. Zhang is a cofounder of Beluga, a startup that created group-messaging tools and that was acquired by Facebook in March. Beluga’s technology became the core of Messenger.

Of course, Facebook isn’t the only company looking at adding real-time group interaction to its social repertoire. Google Hangouts, which lets up to 10 people video chat together in real time, has been a standout feature of Google’s new social network, Google+. Earlier this year at South By Southwest Interactive, a conference known for its prescience about social media, the scene buzzed with talk of companies such as Hurricane Party, Fast Society, and GroupMe, all of which offer tools that help groups of people find each other, share photos, and communicate in real time, at parties and concerts, for example. Beluga would have been there too, except that Facebook had already bought it.

“Social-media tools got you to share yourself—they were all about you—but now people are starting to experiment with what happens when you focus on groups of people,” says Matthew Rosenberg, a cofounder of Fast Society. The company has aimed its group-messaging application at younger people out on the town, and has made deals to promote group communication around media events such as showings of the comedy movie Bridesmaids.

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Credit: Technology Review

Tagged: Communications, Facebook, social networking, apps, email, SMS

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