Facebook’s first messaging app is officially 10 years old, and the company is celebrating the occasion with a handful of new features and birthday-themed updates.
Messenger is introducing “birthday” versions of several of its existing features, such as birthday soundmoji, AR effects, stickers, chat themes and other effects. Users will also be able to send cash to friends as a “birthday gift” with Facebook Pay, which is essentially like any other person-to-person payment in Messenger but adds some new celebratory animations.
The app is also adding a new type of mini game to chats with “poll games.” The feature allows friends in group threads to weigh in on lighthearted polls that ask which member of the chat is “most likely” to do something like miss a flight or fight zombies. Both the new birthday effects, poll games, and birthday gifting are rolling out now. Messenger also previewed a new “word effects” feature coming “in the near future” that allows users to pair an emoji with a specific word or phrase in order to trigger an in-chat animation similar to iMessage’s special effects.
The updates underscore just how much Messenger has changed in its first decade of existence. Originally launched in 2011, the app evolved from a basic chat app to one so bloated with features it’s been redesigned at least three times in the last two years. It’s been home to many of Facebook’s more ambitious — though not always successful — features over the years.
More recently, Facebook has been weaving Messenger more tightly into its other services by pushing users to link their Instagram DMs with their Messenger account. Facebook wants to bring this same kind of “cross-app communication” to WhatsApp as well, though the company hasn’t said much about how or when it could happen. Likewise, it’s still not clear when Messenger will turn on end-to-end encryption as a default setting.
During a call with reporters, Facebook’s Messenger chief Stan Chudnovsky said that the rollout of encryption as a default is moving slowly in part due to the sheer number of features in the messaging app. “We need to rebuild all these features in [an] end-to-end encrypted environment, and make them fully capable,” he said, noting that Messenger is still continuously adding new features. “It's almost like we are constantly trying to catch up with ourselves.”