FACEBOOK • GETTY
The world's second most popular messaging app is a confusing mess
Less is more.
It’s a tired old adage, granted. But nonetheless, it is one that Facebook would do well to adhere to with its Messenger app.
Over the last few months, the US social media company has pushed-out a slew of software updates that bring new features to the mobile messaging app, leaving the entire experience feeling bloated – and borderline impenetrable for new users.
Under the drastic new changes, Facebook is capable of seeing the phone number associated with a WhatsApp account, enabling the California-based social network to link and track users’ profiles between the two services – helping the company gather more data for its advertisements.
Facebook has since paused its data collection within Europe, amid pressure from a number of data protection groups and privacy watchdogs.
In other parts of the world, the data collection policy still stands.
But despite these dubious data sharing policies, WhatsApp is still a much more enjoyable experience than the messy, distended Messenger app.
WhatsApp: Hidden Tips, Tricks and Features You Never Knew Mon, June 20, 2016
WhatsApp is the world's most popular messaging app but you probably don't know all of the tricks and features hidden up its sleeve. Here's everything you need to know to master WhatsApp.
Play slideshow WHATSAPP • EXPRESS NEWSPAPERS 1 of 10
WhatsApp – Hidden tricks and features you probably don't know, but definitely should be using
Facebook has crammed so many new features and gestures into the iOS and Android OS instant messaging app that it’s likely to baffle even the most technology minded users.
It’s no secret that Facebook tried to buy SnapChat for a reported $3billion, some £2.4billion converted, back in 2013.
SnapChat is a phenomenal success amongst younger users – an audience that has increasingly abandoned Facebook (to the tune of around three million in three years, according to research conducted by iStrategy Labs). And while Facebook might not familiar with the adage “less is more”, it is certainly well-versed with saying, “imitation is the highest form of flattery”.
Unable to buy SnapChat, Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook has launched a number of attempts to replicate its ephemeral appeal, including the ill-fated Poke app in 2012, the short-lived Slingshot app in 2014, and the introduction of Instagram Stories last summer to name just a few.
And now it has fallen to Messenger to replicate SnapChat’s functionality.
FACEBOOK MESSENGER • EXPRESS NEWSPAPERS
Facebook Messenger now includes a number of SnapChat-esque features
Facebook has introduced a number of SnapChat-esque features to the messaging app, most notably, the updated camera, which now includes the ability to doodle over photographs, add stickers, emojis, and apply selfie-filters to your videos and snaps.
If that sounds at all familiar, it’s because SnapChat debuted the same feature back in May 2014
Messenger users can share these creations to an individual or with an entire group chat inside the app. Accessing the feature is handled by pressing the large circular button in the centre of the toolbar at the bottom of the app.
Somewhat confusingly, you can also access the same feature by pulling down on the main list of active conversations. And it’s this kind of doubling-up in the app design that leaves the entire experience feeling a little ill-thought through.
In another SnapChat duplication, Facebook Messenger rolled-out a new feature called Instant Video late last year.
Messenger already had the ability to make video calls, but, acknowledging that these calls are often saved for “special occasions,” Facebook introduced a new broadcast option that sits above a simple text conversation inside the app.
So, rather than launch a dedicated video chat, it’s possible to make a video call while you are typing out a reply to your Facebook friend.
FACEBOOK MESSENGER • EXPRESS NEWSPAPERS
There are a number of baffling duplications in Messenger, like these two shortcuts to send GIFs
Describing the feature, Facebook said: “Tap on the video icon in the top right corner to start sharing real-time video. Audio is off by default because sometimes you just need to see something, not hear it — but sound can easily be turned on if you choose. Your video will float over the active text conversation that you can continue while viewing the video. Your friend can watch your video stream and share a video back if they decide.”
If that sounds at all familiar, it’s because SnapChat debuted the same feature when it overhauled its own messaging capabilities back in May 2014.
And again, being able to launch video chat capabilities using two different shortcuts in the app seems needlessly confusing.
With each of these new additions, many targeted at SnapChat – but not all, Messenger has become increasingly impenetrable to new or casual users.
And with each new addition to the app, Facebook Messenger has not dropped any previous functionality to make room. That leaves a plethora of buttons, symbols and shortcuts for users to wade through.
Inside any given chat window, you’ll find an small icon for a video camera, a telephone, a camera, and a photo. Each of these symbols loads a different function within the chat app.
Not content with only having four bafflingly-similar pictograms, Facebook Messenger also includes a small Smiley symbol on the right-hand side of the text field that lets users add Emoji, Stickers, and GIFs into the conversation.
But on the left-hand side of the same text field, there is also a + symbol that also loads the ability to add Stickers (again) and GIFs (again), amongst other features, including voice memos, games, event reminders, and more.
Surely, one of these GIF shortcuts can be dropped from either the left- or right-hand side of the chat bubble in Facebook Messenger?
It’s baffling how the world’s second most popular messaging app has become such a bloated mess? And as Facebook continues to introduce new features, most recently with the addition of group video chats, this problem will surely only get worse.
WhatsApp might have some dubious data collection policies, but at least the app is simple to navigate. Hopefully, Facebook will strip-back some of the duplication within its chat app in a future update – and not blindly copy every new feature that appears in SnapChat.
Remember – less is more.