Just kill the messenger

Introducing Messenger

We are all in constant search of the perfect chat app. Myself, I thought I had things settled with my beloved Facebook Messenger. Little did I know it would break my heart.

Messenger was a minor player in my text life till recently. I was happy with Telegram back then. Telegram is the perfect app. Not the perfect chat app. The perfect app. Stable, fast, very good native apps for phones AND computers, bots, etc. Everything that Telegram implements is well thought through and stable on release. The problem is that Telegram is not something that most of my friends would bother to meet. So in my quest for a minimalistic communications strategy, Telegram had to go.

So here I am searching on what to use next. I evaluated WhatsApp, Viber and even Signal. Every one of those had huge deal breakers. Poor gif support was the main one and the second was poor clients. The only one that was convenient and feature full was Facebook Messenger. And the best part, is that everyone has it on their phones since Facebook made it mandatory if you want to use it’ s chat function on your mobile device to annoy people on the go.

Because annoying on the go is like a cherished dream for most, today except from email if one must have an app for sending text around, this app would be Facebook Messenger. That reality caries a certain responsibility for Facebook. It is the same responsibility that Google has to fulfill when they provide email apps (I did not mention Apple because everyone knows their email apps are rubbish). Let’s see how these two great entities compare when they deal with their responsibilities.

Gmail by Google

It is universally true that Gmail makes the best email experience out there. They may scrap your email to collect information about you, they may be the big brother everyone fears but if you get past that, they make a hell of an email client. Everything is stable, aliases and alternative addresses work as expected on all devices, the interface is simple but with all the functions at a hand’ s reach and finally, mail gets through always and fast.

When Gmail wanted to try a new very original thing and re-thing the way we do email, they made a separate app called Inbox. Some people love it and some don’ t. Those who do not like or do not care, they can still use the same old Gmail. If something from Inbox can help the Gmail users it can be implemented in a non aggressive way.

This is how you do new features on a workhorse.

Messenger by Facebook

Facebook Messenger has all the features you might need in a chat app and more. It sends text and images, links auto-advance to video or images and you can make calls or video calls if you prefer. It also features some non-essential but fancy tools like GIFs, stickers, mini games, optionally encrypted conversations and a very clever event reminder option which I use vigorously in the group chat I maintain with my friends. In some countries you can even send money through the app.

All these features make for a bloated app though. A friend with a recent but not so powerful Android phone hates it because Messenger is laggy for him. The binary on Android is a huge 56MB download and on the iPhone a whopping 150MB download. This is a weird strategy from the company that launched the internet.org initiative to promote universal internet access considering that the people who will be affected, use phones that are way lower specced than the one my friend uses.

But this is not my problem with Messenger. It runs ok for the most part on my aging but decent devices. My problem is with the new camera. It is the worst user experience I have ever seen on a major product and I am almost angry it passed the quality control.

If you are lucky enough to have not updated your apps or you live on another planet, this is what happened. Facebook released to the wild an update that turns your texting app into Snapchat. It is not like Instagram where it enhanced the whole experience without disrupting the way the app works. It’ s a shameless “We copied Snapchat which is a different app from a different company that we couldn’ t buy and slapped it on top of our app without a care in the world” kind of thing.

This is a screenshot of Snapchat:

Snapchat

This is a screenshot from the new Facebook Messenger app. Maybe you can spot the similarities.

Messenger

The second picture is what happens if you scroll up and discover the selfie camera. Another way to enable that camera is to press the circle button. One more way to find that camera if you escaped all of the above is to press the + Add to your day rectangle on the top left. Maybe there are more ways to take a picture with a chat app but I have still to find them. Maybe I am dumb and the next update will fix that by completely removing the tiny + icon on the top right that stands for New message replacing it with a camera icon. Dear Mark Zuckerberg or random hiring rep from Facebook, if you liked that idea please note that I am available for hire. If you can’ t find how to contact me via your app, do not hesitate to contact me via email. I think it still works.

If Facebook really wants to do something like Snapchat, it can follow the Gmail example. Make another app called Messchat or whatever and do crazy and original things there. The least it should do is give the option to the people like me who hate the new format to opt-out.

Humor aside Facebook, this app is now a commodity used by all of your users and more. It would be nice if you could beat Snapchat but let’ s face it, you are just the weird dad who sits with the teens at the holiday table. You are not as cool as Snapchat because being cool means to be original. So quit copying the cool kids and be the grown company you are. People like that too.

xkcd.com - UI Change