As Facebook Messenger has zoomed to 700 million monthly users, it has become a popular way for people to share photos with your friends. Messenger users collectively send one another 9.5 billion pictures a month, and that number is growing faster than the overall rate of messaging. That led Facebook to consider ways to enhance photo sharing on Messenger — and today it begins to arrive in the form of (deep sigh) Photo Magic, which monitors your camera roll and sends you notifications when it recognizes one or more of your friends asking if you'd like to send it to them. The feature is rolling out in Australia today on Android, with iOS to follow a few days later. It is expected to come to more countries in coming months.
Photo Magic (groan), which you have to opt into to use, is meant to solve a fundamental problem of the smartphone camera age: you likely have hundreds of photos of friends sitting inside your camera roll, and despite your best intentions, you'll likely never take the time to pick them out and send them to your friends. Peter Martinazzi, a director of product management on Messenger, told me he found himself in this position after Halloween, when his camera roll filled up with photos of his friends in costume. Now, instead of letting them languish, he can use Messenger to get the pictures to their intended recipients.
Addressing a fundamental problem of the smartphone age
Here's how it works. The first time you try the updated app, Messenger will look for the most recent photo in your camera roll that includes one of your Facebook friends. (You'll have to give it permission to access your photos.) Once it finds a picture, you can send it to the recipient with one tap. If multiple friends are in the photo, it will create a new message thread with you and those friends. The next time you take a picture of one of your Facebook friends, you'll get a notification suggesting you share it with them.
If this sounds familiar, it's because it's the same basic idea as Moments, a stand-alone app that Facebook launched earlier this year. (The Messenger and Moments teams collaborated on Photo Magic, particularly around the face recognition elements.) Moments works the same way, but there's a catch: friends needs to have Moments installed in order to view the photos you send them. I like Moments a lot, but very few of my friends have it installed — and so I resist sharing photos using Moments, because I don't want to feel like I'm spamming them with app download links.
Borrowing from Facebook Moments
Photo Magic (typing those words causes me physical pain) neatly sidesteps that issue by coming standard in one of the world's most popular apps. It's enough to make me wonder about the future of Moments, though Facebook says it plans to continue development on the app.
So how popular will Photo Magic (dies and asks editor to finish this post as a final wish) be? I expect a healthy chunk of users will resist opting in out of privacy concerns — giving Facebook ongoing access to your camera roll might make you uneasy. (You can opt out of facial recognition in Facebook's settings.) And others will prefer to share when the mood strikes them rather than invite Facebook to nag them. But for sheer convenience, it's hard to beat Messenger. It isn't quite magic, but I'll take it.