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Facebook Now Rules Instant Messaging

All combined, nearly one billion users are coming to Facebook-owned messaging products.

Posted on April 23, 2014, at 7:22 p.m. ET

On Wednesday, Facebook announced for the first time that more than 200 million people are using Facebook Messenger "regularly." Yesterday, the social network's recently purchased messaging platform, WhatsApp, announced it broke half a billion monthly active users. And Instagram, which launched a messaging component in December, also has more than 200 million users.

All combined, that's somewhere approaching 1 billion aggregate users opening, connecting, and messaging with Facebook-owned applications. That's nearly one billion users spending valuable time in Facebook-owned apps, instead of competitors', which makes Facebook one of, if not the formidable force in one of the internet's most consistently vital technologies: messaging.

Google, of course, is still a sizable rival through Hangouts and Android but the search giant has been noticeably quiet in the messaging space as of late. Line is targeting 500 million registered users by the end of 2014. WeChat has 355 million monthly active users, Snapchat won't release numbers but hinted late last year at being somewhere around 30 million monthly actives, and reports from late last year put Kik just over the 100 million mark. While Kik claimed back in December that 200,000 users are signing up each day, none of these come close to Facebook's aggregate monthly average user numbers.

Given Facebook's position only months ago, this is a notable moment for the social network. Before the WhatsApp acquisition Facebook and the other tech giants were largely left flatfooted by the enormous and sudden rise of the Snapchats, WhatsApps, Lines, and Kiks of the world. The new mobile messaging platforms were efficient, targeted mercenaries. There was no need for a pre-existing homescreen. Access to your contacts and some real estate on your home screen was enough to build a reasonably comprehensive social network in seconds. The Googles and Facebooks of the world were left trying to play catch up.

While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told investors and the press today Wednesday that WhatsApp and Messenger "serve different use cases," the newly acquired service competes with Facebook for one of the web's most precious commodities: user time and attention. Sure, user time is more fragmented than ever on mobile, but that's why having an aggregate of nearly 1 billion users using Facebook platforms for messaging is so important. More time spent on Facebook products could very well mean less time spent in others. It is important to note, however, that there's likely a good deal of overlap between services, meaning Facebook probably doesn't have 1 billion unique users using its messaging platforms.

If history is any guide, Facebook's messaging dominance is a mixed omen for the company. In the past, messaging has been a king maker of sorts; win the messaging wars and win the web. But success is often short-lived. Just ask AIM and Yahoo Messenger.

This post was updated to clarify the overlap between users in Facebook-owned messaging platforms and to note that the combined 1 billion users does not mean 1 billion unique users.

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