Mobile Group Messaging Developer Beluga Acquired by Facebook

In the latest in a string of small acquisitions aimed at bringing in talented developers, Facebook has bought mobile group messaging app developer Beluga. This may be more than just a talent acquisition, as both the founding team of experienced ex-Google engineers and the product will become part of Facebook, TechCrunch first reported. Most of Facebook’s acquisitions to date have involved keeping the people and dropping the product.

Beluga is in the middle of where Facebook wants to be: socially-driven mobile applications. It lets people easily create private mobile-based chat rooms, add friends, and share information. It faces a range of competitors, like GroupMe. It has stood out for an especially slick interface, and a variety of smart uses of communication channels on Facebook and on mobile devices. Here’s a list we put together, As we covered in detail on Inside Mobile Apps last month, these include:

  • Push notifications every time a friend joins
  • Populating the friend list from the address book
  • Facebook Log-in on the First Screen
  • Option to Post to Facebook Wall upon sign-up
  • Cross-platform strategy with iPhone and Android access from the beginning
  • Availability to non-iPhone or Android users through SMS and Twilio
  • Additional invites with email or phone number
  • Posting photos to Facebook

The company was posting some small but interesting growth numbers over the course of February, in terms of Facebook users, although up to this point it  has fallen from its peak of 66,000 monthly active users and 4,000 daily active users, according to AppData. Clearly, the acquisition was about the quality of the team — ex-Google engineers Ben Davenport,Lucy Zhang and Jon Perlow — and the promise of their product.

Facebook has been working on a variety of ways to become more relevant to mobile, although beyond its own native applications and integrations, the results have been limited so far. Its apps for iPhone, Blackberry, and Android apps and other handsets, as well as its SMS and Facebook Zero integrations, have all helped generate significant mobile Facebook usage; the company said, as of months ago, that more than 200 million of its users access the service via a mobile device.

Yet, Facebook has not yet found its wider role in the mobile world. Many developers may use Facebook as a way to seed a user base for a new app, or as one of a number of channels to help promote an existing app, but they typically do not rely on Facebook to be the core social graph — instead, they use the address books of phones, and work to create their own.

For its part, Facebook is encouraging HTML5 adoption, part of an industry-wide effort to promote the standard, in order to help developers build high-quality mobile web apps. It is also working on a variety of mobile integrations with handset manufacturers — phones that prominently feature Facebook messages, photos, and other components of the core service. Some rumors have persisted that Facebook is working on a fork of the Android code base, that would further enable it to reach more devices and mobile users; the company is continuing to deny that it is working on a special instance of a “Facebook Phone”

In this broader context, Beluga’s team — and its smart focus on building social functionality into mobile features — looks like a natural fit to work on any number of projects at Facebook. The statements from Facebook and Beluga aren’t much more specific.

Beluga, via its site:

Beluga is now friends with Facebook

We are happy to announce that Facebook has acquired Beluga!

Since launching Beluga, we’ve appreciated all the enthusiasm and positive feedback from our users. We’re excited to continue to build our vision for mobile group messaging as part of the Facebook team. Beluga and Facebook are committed to create new and better ways to communicate and share group experiences.

For now, Beluga will continue to function as it does today. Your Beluga account and data will not be lost. We’ll be providing more details on future plans for Beluga in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

Ben, Lucy and Jon

Team Beluga

Facebook, via TechCrunch:

We’re psyched to confirm that we’ve just acquired the talent and assets of Beluga, whose simple and elegant mobile apps blew us away as a solution to help groups of friends stay in touch on the move. We’re looking forward to welcoming co-founders Ben Davenport, Lucy Zhang and Jonathan Perlow, and we’re excited that the team will continue their vision for groups and mobile communication as part of Facebook.

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