Facebook frees Messenger from its gilded cage

Fruits of the WhatsApp acquisition


Online ad network Facebook has made it possible for new users to sign up for its Messenger chat service without the need to first be a member of its social network. All that’s required is a phone number.

The sign up option is initially available in four countries - the US, Canada, Venezuela and Peru – but is expected to flow onto other territories over time.

The move is designed to turn Messenger into its own social network, rather than leave it tied to the existing Facebook platform. Last year, the company took the first steps in this transition, creating a separate Messenger chat app and stripping the functionality out of the web-based Facebook network.

Allowing people to sign in without a Facebook account also means that the social networking giant now has three social networking platforms, along with its core platform. Several years ago it acquired Instagram, the popular photo sharing site, and then last year it bought WhatsApp, a chat program popular outside the US, for US$19 billion.

Mark Zuckerberg has let WhatsApp and Instagram remain independent of the core Facebook site, something he has been quoted as saying is part of the company’s efforts to prepare for the “platforms of tomorrow.” The company also owns the Oculus 3D virtual reality business.

Messenger also remains a more powerful tool than WhatApp, with video functionality as well as a payments feature. It’s unclear whether Facebook will expand WhatsApp’s functionality, or let it remain relatively bare-bones in comparison with the tools available within Messenger. ®

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