Facebook upset millions upon millions of users five years ago when it removed chat from its core mobile app and forced them to download Messenger to communicate privately with friends. Now it looks like it might be able to restore the option inside the Facebook app.
That’s according to a discovery from researcher Jane Manchun Wong, who discovered an unreleased feature that brings limited chat features back into the core social networking app. Wong’s finding suggests that, at this point, calling, photo sharing and reactions won’t be supported inside the Facebook app chat feature, but it remains to be seen if that is simply because it is currently in development.
It is unclear whether the feature will ship to users at all as this is a test. Messenger, which has more than 1.3 billion monthly users, will likely stick, but this change would give users other options for chatting with friends.
We’ve contacted Facebook for comment, although we’re yet to hear back from the company. We’ll update this story with any comment that the company does share.
Update: Facebook acknowledged the test, but it reiterated its commitment to Messenger in the following statement:
We are testing ways to improve the messaging experience for people within the Facebook app. Messenger remains a feature-rich, stand-alone messaging app with over a billion people using it monthly to connect with the people and businesses they care about most. We do not have any additional details to share at this time.
As you’d expect, the discovery has been greeted with cheers from many users who were disgruntled when Facebook yanked chat from the app all those years ago. I can’t help but wonder, however, if there are more people today who are content with using Messenger to chat without the entire Facebook service bolted on. Given all of Facebook’s missteps over the past year or two, consumer opinion of the social network has never been lower, which raises the appeal of using it to connect with friends but without engaging its advertising or news feed.
Wong’s finding comes barely a month after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sketched out a plan to pivot the company’s main focus to groups and private conversation rather than its previously public forum approach. That means messaging is about to become its crucial social graph, so why not bring it back to the core Facebook app? We’ll have to wait and see, but the evidence certainly shows Facebook is weighing the merits of such a move.