fbmessenger.png
(Credit: Facebook)

Facebook will finally begin rolling out the latest iteration of Facebook Messenger after announcing plans to revamp the app in January. Facebook's VP of Messenger Stan Chudnovsky admitted that the social media giant was overzealous in its attempts to expand and monetize the app as it became a dominant force worldwide.

But Facebook Messenger 4, he said, would be simplified and scaled back, with less tabs and greater customization options.

"We believe Messenger 4 delivers the closeness and authenticity that you've been asking for -- through simplicity of design and powerful features that put the focus back on messaging and connecting," he wrote in a blog post announcing the update's release.

"To make it easier to find the features you care about, the new Messenger will have three tabs instead of nine. Your conversations -- both one-to-one and groups -- are front and center in the Chats tab."

SEE: Snapchat's election push has activated over 400,000 registered voters

In the blog post and in recent roundtable discussions with reporters, Chudnovsky said Facebook realized they needed to make changes to the app after studying user behavior and listening to complaints from critics.

Nearly 1.3 billion people across the world use the app every month, and Facebook has been eager to monetize every aspect of Messenger, looking to China's WeChat as an example of how to spin the popularity of messaging apps into other services like e-wallets or customer service for corporations. Before the update, the Messenger app had grown to include tabs for conversations with people, businesses, games, calls, conversations with groups and a massive button in the middle for videos as well as photos. All of this obscured the main reason people used the app: to communicate with friends, family members or clients.

"In a recent Messenger study, 7 out of 10 (71%) people told us simplicity is the top priority for them in a messaging app. Among people surveyed who are messaging more frequently, 62% say messaging makes them feel closer to their friends," Chudnovsky said, adding that Facebook isn't removing anything, just reorganizing things to make the most important features more prominent.

"Whether you want to poll your friends on which movie to see, split the bill for last night's dinner, share your live location to find friends at a music festival, challenge them to your favorite games, or catch up in a group video chat, we aren't changing anything about what you've always loved about Messenger."

Now, users will only see tabs for Chats -- where you can message with friends or groups -- and People, where you see who is online and view any of your friend's latest Stories. There is also a tab labelled Discover where they've stuffed many of the features people either didn't use or found cumbersome.

You can also customize your chat window with fun colors or gradients, and Facebook said more changes -- like a Dark mode -- will be rolled out over the next few weeks as users adjust to the changes. Facebook also said they will be adding AR features to Messenger that would allow businesses to show off products and language translation services for multinational companies.

Facebook highlighted the coming changes to Messenger at the F8 2018 conference in San Jose this summer and the recent media push around the new Messenger app comes as the company continues to struggle with an almost weekly stream of stories about privacy-related issues.

Just last week, Facebook was forced to admit that it was using information from its recently unveiled Portal and Portal+ video calling hardware to target people with ads. It initially said all calls were private and that it would not use any information for advertising purposes, but later sent a statement to a reporter at Recode saying it has every intention of using "this information to inform the ads we show you across our platforms."

"Other general usage data, such as aggregate usage of apps, etc., may also feed into the information that we use to serve ads," Facebook said.

FOLLOW Download.com on Twitter for all the latest app news.

Takeaways

  1. Facebook is simplifying the Messenger app after surveys said users prefer less clutter and more focus on the platform's main function, communicating with friends and family.
  2. Facebook will be rolling out the changes -- including less tabs and more customization options -- in the coming weeks for both Android and iOS.

Also see

Jonathan is a Contributing Writer for CNET's Download.com. He's a freelance journalist based in New York City. He recently returned to the United States after reporting from South Africa, Jordan, and Cambodia since 2013.