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When Facebook Captured Beluga, They May Have Harpooned It In The Head

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When Facebook acquired Beluga this past March, it was an interesting deal for them. Interesting, because they previously had only done deals for talent. But this deal, they told us, was for both talent and assets. In other words, they were also interested in the technology behind Beluga. More importantly, the plan was to keep Beluga running. And they have. Sort of.

Over the past several weeks, users of Beluga have probably noticed some major reliability issues. These range from the mobile apps missing messages because they’re unable to connect to the service, to the service’s website being totally down. Last night, Beluga was totally down for a few hours. There was no indication why it was down, even after it came back. This has been happening more frequently. Not good.

It’s hard not to be reminded of FriendFeed. That service, which Facebook bought in 2009, also reminded live post-acquisition. While that was a talent deal, the core FriendFeed team said they were committed to keeping it up indefinitely. The reality has been that while it’s still up, performance issues and lack of continued development have driven away many of the core users (though, odddly, usage started spiking in Turkey after the deal). It’s a ghost town now. A shell of what it used to be.

And Beluga appears to be headed in the same direction. When Facebook acquired it, we were just heading into a full-on group messaging app showdown. To me, Beluga was the most promising of the new players. It had all the essentials I wanted/needed to replace SMS on my phone. And it was fast — really fast. My social circle started getting really into using it all the time.

We barely use it anymore. Again, it’s just too unreliable now.

I’ve reached out to the Beluga team to see what the deal is. I have yet to hear back, and I may not because Facebook tends to rule with an iron fist about such matters. Officially, the team was assigned to the groups and messaging teams within Facebook. While the new Facebook Messages is finally rolling out to all users, there hasn’t been any major new developments there in months either. There’s certainly no stand-alone Facebook Messages app that some of us had been hoping for — even though Google has quietly been working on one.

At the time of the acquisition, both Facebook and Beluga said that they would be providing details about Beluga’s ultimate future “in the coming weeks”. By my count, it has now been about 13 weeks. It’s time to let us know if Beluga will live, be officially harpooned, or if it will be left to drift at sea like FriendFeed.

I don’t have a good feeling about that answer. Too bad.