According to a Facebook spokesperson and the company's announcement, the app Beluga "will continue to function as it does today." That statement is made with a huge qualifier, however - "for now."
Beluga launched less than six months ago, started by ex-Googlers Lucy Zhang, Ben Davenport and John Perlow. If you haven't yet used Beluga, it's a simple app for communicating with multiple people at once. You create a "pod" (Beluga's name for a group) of people and each time one of you sends a message, everyone else gets it. It's a bunch of custom-created group chat rooms. In these "pods", you can not only share text but also pictures and locations. And not everyone even needs to have a smartphone, as the app accounts for your feature-phoned friends by sending them SMS instead of in-app content.
If you're familiar with RIM's BlackBerry Messenger, Beluga has been compared to that popular app, as well as to the longer-running if less refined but also very popular cross-platform app PingChat. There have been many apps aiming to be "the BlackBerry Messenger for cross-platform" but Beluga's striking design, high-profile team of founders and well-timed launch helped give it an extra dose of visibility.
In one recent article by Om Malik, Beluga was cited as one possible way that Google could take on Facebook, but it looks like Facebook beat them to the punch in that battle. From their statement, Facebook sounds like it is excited about the acquisition as I was about the app itself:
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.
Will Beluga continue to live on in its current incarnation? A Facebook spokesperson had this to say, closely echoing the announcement on Beluga's website:
For now, Beluga will continue to function as it does today. Beluga accounts and data will not be lost. We'll be providing more details on future plans for Beluga in the coming weeks.
We just recently got a chance to sit down with the Beluga team and discuss the company's future. Of course, "Facebook acquisition" wasn't one of the topics, but I was rather excited to see where the app was headed. Now, I guess I'll have to be excited about what Facebook could do with this same technology.
Funny enough, it appears that Beluga's closest and strongest competitor in the space, GroupMe, appears to have just launched a new version of its app this morning that includes all of the features that really set Beluga apart. Previously, GroupMe offered an SMS-only interaction, which wasn't ideal for those of us without unlimited text messages. It also lacked a fluid integration of pictures and location. Its latest update seems to have updated GroupMe to offer in-app messaging, picture sharing and location sharing - the standout features of Beluga.
As Louis Gray notes, the acquisition could mean "dramatically improved mobile messaging, location integration and smart groups" for the mobile Facebook app. Here's hoping.