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(Credit: Facebook)

This fall, Facebook began rolling out an updated version of the app -- dubbed Messenger 4 -- after years of complaints that the app had become cluttered with things users had no interest in. In an October blog post, Facebook's VP of Messenger Stan Chudnovsky admitted that the company had been overzealous in their attempts to monetize and build out the app, which was originally spun off from the main Facebook app in 2013.

"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," he wrote, adding that despite some user complaints about the additional tabs, 300 million people used Facebook Stories each day on Messenger and nearly 10 billion messages have been sent between companies and users.

Stripped down

After being separated from the Facebook app, Messenger was filled to the brim with new tabs that did everything other than the app's stated purpose: messaging. The app quickly grew to 9 tabs -- featuring conversations with people and businesses, games, calls, and 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.

A recent Facebook survey found that more than 70 percent of participants prioritized simplicity when choosing a messaging app, so the social media behemoth decided to take the app back to its roots and bring the number of tabs down to three.

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. Another tab labelled Discover is stuffed with many of the features people either didn't use or found cumbersome.

The app itself is designed to look sleeker and less cumbersome than before, but it still features the "People" tab heavily, showing you how many of your friends are currently online. The "Discover" tab contains a strange mix of games, businesses and celebrity profiles, none of which seem particularly necessary for a messaging app.

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(Credit: Facebook)

Fun additions

The update was spearheaded last spring by Christian Dalonzo, a then-23-year-old undergraduate at Rowan University. Along seeing with fewer tabs, users will be able to change the color and gradient of chat boxes. And the app offers a bunch of new stickers and gifs you can add to chats.

The app also lets you hold audio and video calls with up to 50 participants, dwarfing most of the other major messaging apps and forcing the industry to catch up with them. Facebook has also added a function that will allow you to delete messages within 10 minutes of sending it, and the app's makers have said a dark mode is on the way as well.

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Users still have access to Messenger's Secret Conversations option, which allows you to send and receive end-to-end encrypted messages. Unfortunately this option is still not available for video or voice calls and group messages. The app is still a good way to send photos, videos, or voice messages quickly to friends and family.

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(Credit: Facebook)

Pros

  • Cost. It's free to use, with no ads right now, although Facebook has said they will be bringing ads to the Stories section of the app at some point soon. As long as you have some form of internet connection, its a quick way to send photos, audio messages, and videos.
  • Simplified Design. Although some are criticizing the redesign, Facebook does deserve some kudos for realizing it had gone too far with additions to the app and stripping it back to its most important parts. The simplified design makes it easy to search through your chats, start new chats, and send photos or videos to friends.
  • Ease of Use. The app is still very easy to use, and its popularity makes it an ideal mode of messaging in today's app heavy world.

Cons

  • Security. While users can still depend on the app for the Secret Connection mode providing end-to-end encryption, the revelations about Facebook's attempts to use data from the app, in conjunction with everything else we know about the social media giant's data sharing policies, should worry all users. Facebook is continually caught not being completely up front about the information it take from your chats and calls to inform what ads you see, leaving it open to criticism from those who say the social media giant needs to be more forthcoming about what information they use and how they use it.
  • Useless parts. Facebook has moved many of the more useless parts of the app to the Discover tab, saving users the hassle of navigating through cumbersome tabs to find what they really want. But it still begs the question: why is that tab even there? Many users have also pointed out how strange and useless it is to know how many of your friends are online.

Bottom line

Facebook is still testing out a bunch of new features for the app, but the latest redesign is definitely a step in the right direction. Users are still eager for a night mode that would save on battery energy and have complained about the layout, but overall Facebook Messenger is getting back to the basics, much to the joy of those who have no choice but to use the app because of its massive popularity worldwide.

Apps

Competitive products

  • Viber. The app, available for both iOS and Android, is very popular across Asia and provides many of the same features as WhatsApp, including video and audio calling in addition to messaging.
  • WhatsApp. Facebook also owns this messaging app, but many have flocked to it for its beefed up security and popularity across the developing world as an ideal platform to send messages, place audio or video calls to friends and family as well as forward voice messages.
  • Line. Line is wildly popular in Japan and Thailand and features a digital wallet in addition to messaging services similar to WhatsApp.
  • Messages. The iOS Messages app on iPhones and iPads is an easy way to chat other friends. As long as they are also on iOS devices.

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.