Facebook's free IM app for iPhone and Android has already won many downloads--but that doesn't mean it's a smart choice.
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Facebook released Tuesday a standalone instant messaging app for the iPhone and Android, giving mobile users a dedicated tool for chatting it up with their Facebook friends. The app has already proven its popularity by rocketing to the top of the iPhone Free Apps list, but popularity alone does not make for a great utility.
There's already an official Facebook messaging app for the iPhone and Android. It's called Facebook. If you want to message your friends from your phone, you just launch it, go the to main menu, and tap Messages. When you have new messages in the regular Facebook app, you still get a notification badge. While it may make business sense for Facebook to make a play to become a major instant messaging service in competition with AIM and Microsoft Windows Live Messenger, it doesn't make much sense for end users to download a whole new app to do something the regular Facebook app already does.
2. It's Interruptastic
Instant messaging is one of the worst distractions you can install on any device, and every working person who's ever run an IM app on their PC knows how distracting (not to mention painfully annoying) an unexpected "Wassssaaaap?" from some bored buddy can be in the middle of a work day. Generally speaking, IM of any kind is a productivity drain for busy people. For reasons I'll explain in my third point, that goes double for Facebook Messenger.
3. Social Context
For IT managers and business managers alike, public IM platforms are a liability. One of the chief reasons for this, apart from security issues that I'll discuss momentarily, is that these apps open up to a worker's entire social network. So, in place of a productive, intranet-based collaboration tool, you get a wild-west timewaster in which everyone every worker knows is always a double-click away. Facebook's wide-open approach to mingling means you can't easily put yourself in "work" mode and receive messages from colleagues only during the business day. You're just open to everyone unless you turn off alerts. While Facebook Messenger does have the ability to mute alerts for 1 hour, it needs a setting to turn alerts off until after 5 p.m. or a user-customizable time.
4. Messenger Creep
Most IM users already have an AIM account, a Google Chat account, a Live Messenger account, and maybe a Yahoo Messenger account. I still have an old ICQ account from the mid-1990s. By making a bid to become your new go-to IM client, Facebook is adding to, rather than helping to eliminate, social fragmentation.
5. Trust Issues
Facebook accounts have become a prime target for online and offline thieves, and getting into an account can be as easy as stealing someone's cellphone from a restaurant table while the owner's head is turned. One of the most common scams that an intruder will run once he's broken into an account is to message all of accountholder's friends in an attempt to extract money or sensitive information. Even Facebook board member Jim Breyer has fallen prey to this kind of attack, and I've seen this type of threat first-hand myself. Until Facebook demonstrably fixes its security flaws, IT managers might do well to discourage Facebook IM as a channel for business communications.
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