Facebook looks like it’s making another play for India’s next billion internet users with key hire

Making connections.
Making connections.
Image: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri
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As it battles for new users around the world, Facebook is turning to an executive with strong experience in India to give its Messenger app a boost.

Anand Chandrasekaran is joining Facebook to work on global strategies and partnerships for the messaging platform, according to the Wall Street Journal. The ex-Yahoo senior executive made the move from Silicon Valley to India in 2014, taking up stints since then at Snapdeal, a key player in India’s e-commerce war, and telecom giant Bharti Airtel. It’s not clear if he’ll remain in India. An official announcement could come as soon as Tuesday, the Journal reported.

Each month, over 1 billion people around the world use Messenger, which was downloaded more than Facebook’s flagship app in 2015. But finding growth beyond the west is crucial. Messenger is used by only 9% of the people from the Asia-Pacific region, where Chinese apps WeChat and QQ dominate. However, Facebook is blocked in China, leaving India as the next biggest target. Chandrasekaran’s background will surely be useful there, where Messenger faces stiff competition. For example, Hike Messenger, which has backing from Chinese giants Tencent and Foxconn, boasts over 100 million users in the country.

Of course, Facebook has not always been received with open arms in India., the free internet service it launched in February 2015, drew the ire of net neutrality supporters by limiting access to sites handpicked by Facebook—the opposition left CEO Mark Zuckerberg befuddled. A year after its release, India’s telecom regulatory authority put an end to the initiative.

Since Messenger became a standalone app in 2014, it has continued to evolve. Messenger can be used on web browsers, allows third-party integrations—like GIFs, stickers, and more— and lets people send money to friends. People can even join the service by signing up with their phone numbers, rather than registering for a Facebook account. To find widespread acceptance in global markets, Messenger will need to find more ways to differentiate itself.