Facebook Faceoff

MessageMe, the Addictive App Facebook Tried to Buy Before Cutting It Off, Already Picked Up More Than 1M. Users

Facebook's social graph may be in the midst of midlife crisis, but MessageMe's features are perfectly suited to the current state of discourse, which seems to be frozen in adolescence.

Screen shot 2013-03-19 at 8.26.54 AMThere have been a rash of reports recently about Facebook’s mercurial approach to third-party developers. The social network may not want to be “in the business of king-making,” by boosting–or suppressing–traffic to popular apps, as Douglas Purdy, director of developer products, told Reuters. But Facebook is increasingly willing to shut the castle gate on competitors.

While Facebook claims it’s an effort to stop spam and promote apps that add value to the network, “Developers say the crackdown is an attempt to stifle applications that compete with Facebook-owned services,” or pay for ads on Facebook, the Wall Street Journal reported last night.  

This past Friday, MessageMe joined the ranks of apps like Vine, Voxer, and Yandex’s social discovery app Wonder, in getting blocked from Facebook’s platform.

But it would be hard to make the case that MessageMe–a rich, incredibly easy-to-use app that lets users send doodles, locations, photos, Google images, videos, iTunes songs, and even Snapchat-like drawings on photos–doesn’t add value considering Facebook reportedly tried to acquire the app.

Rather, cofounder Arjun Sethi told Betabeat, he was informed Friday that MessageMe was not compliant with platform policy guidelines related to duplicating Facebook’s core services (i.e. Facebook Messenger) and that “they’d be shutting off access to our users to get to their friends list.”

Mr. Sethi said his team “worked over the weekend and basically removed the feature. So if you looked at the app now it’s not there anymore.” When we downloaded the app last night, the option to find friends on Facebook still showed up, which would have been a welcome option considering only seven early adopters from our contact list were already on the service, but MessageMe is that supremely rare app we actually wouldn’t mind bugging our normal friends to join.

That explains why, in a blog post today revealing seed funding from True Ventures, First Round Capital, Google Ventures, SVAngel, Resolut.vc, Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock Partners and Social+Capital Partnership raised last year, MessageMe also announced that it picked up more than 1 million users since launching (with the Facebook connection) on March 7th.

The company said it’s sending more than 500 notifications per second worldwide and that in the U.S. alone, users have shared more than 10 million doodles and more than 4 million songs on iTunes.

Facebook’s social graph may be in the midst of midlife crisis, but MessageMe’s features are perfectly suited to the current state of discourse, which seems to be frozen in adolescence.

Mr. Sethi said his team’s background is in social gaming and they plan on introducing in-app monetization when the time is right, rather than advertising or selling data to third-parties. (The “stickers” and “money” buttons next “video” and “doodle” are currently turned off.) The same cofounders previously collaborated on a company called Lolapps, which was acquired by a Korean company.

When it came time to build MessageMe, they took their inspiration from the more personal social network Path and its so-called “stickers,” as well as the Chinese messaging app QQ and the older BBM-style messaging on Blackberries. “When you look at our product, you can see there’s a PIN system so we focus a lot of our attention on that as well, rather than like some sort of public broadcast of usernames,” he explained.

(An earlier version of MessageMe’s blog post noted typically “Asian” messaging behaviors becoming more mainstream.)

And like Path, MessageMe sets its sights smaller. “We’re not focused on the replication of your Facebook graph,” he explained. “We’re focused on having you communicate with people that you want to communicate with the most and people that you feel you can be yourself with.” The average customer, he said, will have a network of 20 to 25 people they spend their time chatting with, rather than hundreds of Facebook friends.

That may be more than just a defensive posture. As John Herrman recently wrote on Buzzfeed, app developers at SXSW were “actively planning for the graph-rot contingency” by “leveraging to build separate graphs of their own.” Besides at this point, getting booted off of Facebook offers its own little media boost.

Mr. Sethi acknowledged that tensions between Facebook and developers were rising. “I do feel like some developers are feeling the pain depending on the type of applications they’re making. It’s just part of like a natural cycle of any platform or ecosystem, depending on what is core to them.”

However, that hasn’t been the case between MessageMe and Apple. “Our product is competitive with iMessage and they’re not revoking access for us. So I think it just depends on the way each company thinks about the platform and product.”

In the meantime, DM us if you want our MessageMe pin? We really want to spend the morning sending doodles and most of the people on our contact list are venture capitalists. :(

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com