Facebook began rolling out its long-expected standalone application for Facebook Groups, one of the company's more subtle but very popular features.
Originally buried in a hard-to-reach section of the main Facebook app, the company says more than 700 million people are using groups, up from 500 million earlier this year. Much like Facebook Messenger, which the company has herded more than a half billion people into using, Facebook decided to break the component out of Facebook.
"What we see is people form friendships, they have groups that are a subset of your friend graph," Product Manager Shirley Sun told BuzzFeed News. "Groups is also definitely connections not only with your friends but also your community at large. Those are the people you know are around you, you don't want to be friends on Facebook, but you are tied together."
Groups was expected to launch as a standalone application sometime this year, with development starting in February. The core Groups team built the app, somewhat contrary to Facebook's other Creative Labs projects that typically only include a few people somewhat attached to a group.
"If you think about groups, it has been a core Facebook product," Sun said. "We have to serve all the people who serve it a lot today, but at the same time the power users, the experience is much better on mobile. The team has the most context, so it makes sense to do everything together."
For Facebook, standalone applications serve as a way to not only attract existing Facebook users to those separate apps, but also to potentially attract new Facebook users and drive higher engagement for separate apps. Earlier this year in an interview with BuzzFeed News, Product Manager Jimmy Chen said part of the reasoning was despite having wide adoption, groups were buried in the main application.
"The fact we put it on Facebook and it's four taps behind the main app, and we still get 500 million people using it every month, suggests there's a deep desire for this kind of product," he said at the time.