Messenger pledges to cut clutter this year. Here’s what needs to go

Messenger pledges to cut clutter this year. Here’s what needs to go
Credit: Facebook

David Marcus, head of Facebook’s Messenger, today announced one of the company’s 2018 plans for the chat app is to simplify it. What is primarily supposed to be a messaging app has become, to use his word, “cluttered.”

It’s a good plan, considering Messenger has become weighed down with unnecessary add-ons. Here’s what Facebook needs to cut from Messenger.

Stories

When Marcus clarified Messenger’s status, he outright said the clutter began two years ago:

Over the last two years, we built a lot of capabilities to find the features that continue to set us apart. A lot of them have found their product market fit; some haven’t.

By sheer coincidence, I’m sure, two years ago is roughly the time Facebook began ripping features from Snapchat — the most obvious one being Messenger Day, which has since been merged with Facebook’s main Stories feature.

If it really wants to declutter Messenger, then Facebook’s first job should be figuring out how the app fits into its larger scheme. If Instagram is the bite-sized visual life story app, and Facebook itself is the microblogging app, then Messenger is primarily for keeping in communication with your friends.

Presenting them with a visual gallery of your day isn’t suited to this purpose. Even the other features on this list are kind of in service to that goal (if you squint in some cases), but Stories definitely isn’t. Hopefully by now Facebook has realized that just because Snapchat does a thing doesn’t mean that thing has to be stuffed into all Facebook-branded apps.

Extensions

One of the things Facebook has added steadily to Messenger over the last couple of years is extensions — so many of them. It’s been drip-fed to Messenger so slowly that it isn’t until you take a step back that you realize just how much has now been added.

When you open Messenger, begin a message, and hit the Plus button, you’re taken to a menu with so many extensions that it’s dizzying. You can share your location live on a map, Spotify songs, or Food Network recipes. It’s all too much, more than Messenger needs.

None of the extensions on their own are bad things, but I question how often they’re actually used. When I see a Food Network recipe I like, for example, I usually just send a friend a URL rather than open the extension and find it. It’s an embarrassment of riches that feels difficult to spend.

Livestreaming

I don’t mind Messenger games so much — if we’re truly trimming the fat I think they should probably go too, but personally I don’t find them as tedious as some of the other features. Now livestreaming on the other hand…

Facebook announced Messenger game streaming via Facebook Live a month ago. As with the Stories feature above, I don’t see how this remotely ties into Marcus’s new goal to “make Messenger the best way to spend time together when you’re apart.” If you must keep games in Messenger, then why try to make them broadcast affairs?

Not to mention the games themselves aren’t exactly watchable affairs. I’m all for having a Pac-Man and Angry Birds in Messenger, for the novelty if nothing else, but it’s not necessary to have them be available for a live stream.

And to end on a positive note, there’s one thing I think Facebook Messenger should keep:

Payments

This time last year, I’d have said it was a silly thing, to add a peer-to-peer payment option to Messenger of all things. But now that I’ve had more time to reflect, I don’t think it’s such a bad idea.

At last count, Messenger had over 1 billion users. That’s a lot of people who use it. And I think enabling a way for friends to share a little cash is a good use of the app — nowhere near as complicated/annoying as the above features and something I think every single one of those billion people could use.

Facebook Messenger is a hugely popular app, and it’s become a cornerstone of online social life, every bit as much as Facebook, or Twitter, or Snapchat. It’s good for Facebook to recognize the clutter is a problem. Improving Messenger will probably require quite a bit of trimming, even more than I’ve specified here, but it’d help make the app more user-friendly.

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