March 01, 2011

Facebook Acquires Beluga With SXSW Weeks Away

The best mobile group chat application I've ever tried just got paired up with the world's biggest social network. While details are light right now, TechCrunch accurately has reported that Beluga, the group messaging service founded by former Googlers, has been acquired by Facebook. This buy comes at a time when discussion of group texting services is practically at an all time high, with SXSW 2011 looming on the horizon. The purchase is a big win for Facebook who gets an incredibly innovative team and service, and gives an amazingly fast exit for the small group, who launched the app (on this blog first) prior to Christmas 2010.

In late January, I predicted Beluga would be one of the biggest hits at the upcoming SXSW event. It's incredibly easy to use, fun, cross-platform, and provides real value to event goers. Facebook doesn't have the best track record of supporting apps when they are acquired, but TechCrunch says Beluga will "function as it does today." That sounds a lot like how FriendFeed has stayed open without change for almost two years, but who knows how this one will play out?

Other players in the group messaging space include GroupMe, TextPlus, FastSociety and tangentially, Yobongo, who should also be interesting to watch at SXSW.

The company's fast exit shouldn't come as much of a surprise to ardent Valley watchers. Om Malik, in one of our Beluga chats, said "it is a great team and this company is going to be snapped up in months if not in a year," on February 18th. When I saw Facebook CTO Bret Taylor join the service on February 23rd, that should have been my first clue something was up.

When FriendFeed was purchased by Facebook, it didn't mean much for the initial service, but many of the features of FriendFeed have made it into the social network. If Beluga goes the same route, we should expect dramatically improved mobile messaging, location integration and smart groups. Can't wait.

From Beluga's Site: (Beluga is now friends with Facebook)
"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."