Facebook has added video calling to its standalone Messenger app but the new feature is about so much more than simply helping friends see as well as speak to each other: it is also a glimpse into the future possibilities that social messaging can offer.
Free video calling over a wi-fi network is nothing new for smartphone owners. It's what Apple's FaceTime, Microsoft's Skye and Google's Hangouts all offer. As a result, on one level at least, Messenger will be lining up against them as an alternative that works equally well on Android and Apple devices.
However, it won't be competing with them in the traditional sense of the word, even though it already has a huge user base (600 million active users and counting) and since adding voice calling two years ago has become home to 10% of the internet's voice-calling traffic. For a better understanding of where Facebook is taking
Messenger with this latest update, it's better to consider Amazon rather than FaceTime.
Amazon began as an online bookstore but has become a platform and a portal for so much more from original TV shows to music streaming services, for individuals to set up their own online business and for authors to self-publish their first works. It has its own range of tablets, a smartphone and TV set top boxes. But it still sells books, too.
With the introduction of video calling, Messenger is about to start developing in the same manner and will become a smartphone portal that ties together everything a handset can do, from address books and location services to taking and editing images and making mobile payments -- a feature that's already live for transferring funds between friends, anyway.
At its developer conference in March, Facebook highlighted how individuals and companies alike will soon be able to integrate their apps or services into Messenger, turning it into a one-stop smartphone app for everything from current affairs to casual gaming and online retail, as well as simply keeping in touch with friends and family.
A video call via Messenger with a friend today could soon morph into a video lesson with a guitar tutor or even an interview with a bank manager tomorrow.
As analyst Benedict Evens notes in a recent post on the subject: "it looks like Facebook is trying not to compete with other messaging apps but to relocate itself within the landscape of both messaging and the broader smartphone interaction model."
As such, Facebook is following a similar path to Asia's largest messaging apps, which also offer everything from taxi booking services to online auctions.