App of the Week: Facebook Messenger

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This is kind of cheating. I know most App of the Week features are typically intended to shine new light on smaller guys, but this week’s app might end up being too major to pass up.

So what makes Facebook’s new group Messenger app better than other messenger services like WhatsApp, or even Google+’s Huddle feature?

Nothing, really. Other than the fact that you have more immediate contact with all your Facebook friends (and phone contacts) at basically any time.

Think about it: Is there a bigger database of your personal contacts than Facebook? Even the thickest rolodex out there to pales in comparison.

(LIST: 10 Things You Shouldn’t Do On Facebook)

At first glance, Messenger doesn’t appear to be all that different from the native messaging experience embedded in the official Facebook app. But after spending some time with it, you begin to realize that, yes, not only is it much faster than SMS or email—you get push notifications and time stamps à la BlackBerry Messenger—but you can reach anyone whether they’re on-the-go or plopped down at their computer.

When the Google+ mobile app was unveiled, its free Huddle feature allowed for instantaneous group chats and brewed up some genuine excitement. The only problem? Huddles are mobile-only. Facebook’s Messenger service automatically logs your conversations within Facebook, whether that be on your phone or at your desktop.

You’ll also be able to embed your typical photos and links, while making location data available, too. You can, of course, opt out of the location services, but it’s kind of cool seeing where your friends are in relation to you on a map. Handy, especially if you’re hunting for a central meeting spot between you and all your friends.

But there are drawbacks: There isn’t, for instance, an easy to way block people from messaging you; you’ll still have to log onto Facebook from your desktop and tinker with their confusing list system (which I’m getting used to). You can, however, bow out from any group conversation as you so choose.

To top things off, 9to5 Mac found a line of code demonstrating that Messenger will eventually support video conferencing. (Skype, anyone?)

So will Facebook Messenger catch on? Facebook sure is pushing for it (they even want you to text a link to it to all your friends), and Zuck and company seem hell bent on having their service become the digital hub for navigating real-world relationships.

But you know what? This is a a nice step in that direction. For the first time in a while, it makes Facebook feel bigger than the blue in your browser, bigger than it already is.

The app is cross-platform, and is available for free on Android and iOS devices. You can get it here.

MORE: See All “Apps of the Week”

Chris Gayomali is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @chrigz, on Facebook, and on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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