Facebook Buys Mobile Messaging Platform: A Threat to SMS?

Mar 08, 2011 — Allan Pulga

On March 1, Facebook acquired the recently launched group texting startup Beluga, a move that surprised most industry observers.

“The company, which had drummed up a moderate amount of hype, was unlikely to sell so early,” wrote Caroline McCarthy of CNET News (March 1). Beluga only launched a few months ago. “But it’s not that much of a shock that Facebook swooped in to snap it up: Beluga’s three co-founders are former Google employees, and were likely appealing to Facebook as the company looks over and over again to fill its product and engineering teams with entrepreneurially minded people by buying their startups.”

McCarthy speculates that Beluga’s technology will live on as part of something within Facebook, like its own group messaging service. “Messaging and mobile offerings are two things that we know Facebook is continuing to update and improve.”

Since being bought out, Beluga posted a message on its website, stating that it is excited to continue to build its vision for mobile group messaging as part of the Facebook Team. “Beluga and Facebook are committed to create new and better ways to communicate and share group experiences.”

By incorporating a group texting feature into its service, Facebook may eventually carve into carriers’ and companies’ SMS revenue.

“It is widely known that text message, while a data service, is priced at a vastly higher rate than raw mobile data used for mobile web browsing,” wrote Ian Mansfield of Cellular-news.com (March 6). “Although a bit more work involved at the network end with storing and forwarding the messages, they have been an unexpected profit opportunity for the companies, and a bone of contention for those firms who seek to send text messages to customers.”

Beluga software is only available for iPhone and Android phones, Mansfield noted, adding that Facebook will likely use its 500 million customer base to put the Beluga platform into more handsets for marketing services, thus bypassing carriers’ own SMS platforms.

“Facebook has been on a small spending spree over the past year, buying up mobile app developers and platforms as it sees mobile services as its main driver of growth in developing markets.”

CNET’s McCarthy predicted the annual South by Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Tex. would put group-messaging services like Beluga front and center. “Though it’s a little less exciting than a horse race, there’s certainly a clear rivalry with no real winner.” Competitors GroupMe and Fast Society are also vying for market share.

Sure enough, as MG Siegler of Techcrunch.com reported yesterday morning (March 8), Beluga got a final SXSW tune up. “With the conference now just days away, competition in the group messaging space is really heating up,” Siegler wrote. “Both GroupMe and Fast Society have significantly overhauled their apps. Beluga needed to step up with some sort of update. And they have.”

The new Beluga version 2.1 features:

  • Facebook single sign-on
  • New mute options that allow you to silence your pods for either 1 hour or until 8 a.m. in the morning.
  • Improved navigation with “pods”, “people” and “news” sections presented on the bottom of the app.

Topics: Retail Operations, Mobile Industry

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