Facebook today said it will make Messenger available to people who don’t have accounts with the social network, making clear how it plans to greatly extend the reach of the service.
The company is in the process of rolling out an update to the chat app that will let people in certain countries—the US, Canada, Peru, and Venezuela—sign up with just their phone numbers.
A Facebook representative said it doesn’t share details on why it chooses specific launch locales. Concerning future plans, she said, “We are starting to roll this out in a few countries, and will spend time considering feedback before making any determinations about next steps.”
In March, Facebook opened up Messenger to third-party integrations, shortly after it debuted the ability to send money to friends using the app. The integrations include the fun and whimsical—GIFs, stickers, sound effects—as well as real business opportunities, such as shipping notifications and customer support for retailers. (In contrast, Facebook’s other chat app, WhatsApp, is remaining a utilitarian tool focused on speed, reliability, and simplicity.)
Facebook’s plans for Messenger have previously been a bit muddy. Users responded with outrage last year when Facebook forced them to migrate to the standalone app to chat with their Facebook friends. That eventually dissipated, and Messenger is currently the top ranking app on both the iOS and Android app stores, according to app analytics firm Sensor Tower. For the most part, it’s been at the top of the charts (ahead of the flagship Facebook app itself) since the forced migration, which started around the end of July. Messenger had 600 million monthly active users, the company said in March.
Now that Facebook has revealed its vision for Messenger, it’s apparent the focus is on expanding the service’s reach and distribution—crucial goals since it wants businesses to use the tool to connect with customers and potentially increase sales. In April, Facebook brought Messenger to web browsers, providing a chatting experience that’s free from the distractions of the news feed. Opening that up to non-Facebook users will go much further in making Messenger a must-use platform.