Who’s using Facebook Messenger? Facebook’s stats department will tell you that every month, more than 800 million people use it and 9.5 billion photos are sent through it. But on the rare occasions I use Messenger, I chat briefly with old college friends or random people I know through work. They don’t know my phone number to send me a text, so they reach me through Facebook.
I wondered if my 35-year-old self was [gulp] getting old. So I asked a 23-year-old colleague if she uses Messenger. "Every day and with everyone I know. I rarely text," she says. She went on to tell me that the people she texts tend to be strangers, like a person she met once or twice for work. "I just don’t want to have too many connections on Facebook with people I don’t know."
This makes a stunning amount of sense.
Whether you use Facebook Messenger to chat with everyone you know or you’re like me and only use it once in a while, here’s a guide to how you can get more out of it — from dedicated browser windows to secret codes for initiating chess games to calling an Uber from within a chat.
Alone in the browser
If you’re using Messenger on Facebook.com, you’re probably not all that impressed with the experience. Tiny chat windows pop up in the bottom right corner of Facebook, and conversations with longer messages feel cramped. While it’s true that you can see all of your Messenger conversations within Facebook.com by selecting Messages in the left-side pane or the Messages icon in the top right, these feel clunky.
Instead, try firing up Messenger.com. This clean, Messenger-dedicated site is free of ads and other junk that mucks up your screen when you’re trying to chat with friends. You can log in by using your Facebook account or your phone number, and you can quickly customize chats by giving nicknames to friends or changing a conversation’s color theme. A handy collection of the photos you’ve shared with a person or group of people appears in the bottom right of this site.
Not on Facebook?
While loads of people have Facebook accounts (1.6 billion, in fact), Messenger also works for those who aren’t on Facebook. After downloading the Facebook Messenger app or opening Messenger.com, a prompt will ask you to either sign in with a Facebook account or to select "Not on Facebook?" From here, you can enter a name, phone number, and photo to get started without having to sign up for a full Facebook account.
Play with codes
You can play basketball (in the mobile app) or chess (both in the app and web browser) in a Messenger conversation by typing the basketball emoji or @fbchess, respectively, into a conversation. These aren’t exactly high-quality games, but they can work as good icebreakers. For chess directions, type "@fbchess help."
Hitching a ride
On the off chance that you’d like to call a car from within Messenger, Uber and Lyft integrate with the app. Tap the "..." near the text box and select Transportation, then download and/or sign into your accounts to get going. With Uber, for example, instructions appear as if you’re having a chat conversation with Uber, and a tiny car icon appears below your text box. Tap the car and a Request Ride map appears. Here, you can select uberX or uberXL and your destination before seeing a fare estimate and tapping Request. Payment info syncs, too, so you can ride without opening your wallet, just like you use the app.
Stop telling your friend that you’ll pay him back and just do it already, will you? Facebook can be used to pay someone or to ask someone to pay you, but you’ll need to register your debit card with Messenger to complete any transactions. Tap the "..." icon near your text-entry box and select Payments to enter your account details. To make the transaction a little more playful, swipe left to reveal six different themes, like cupcakes for a birthday gift or wine bottles to settle a bar tab.
If your photos need a little extra umph, draw on them or add some text. Tap the photo icon just below your text box to grab an image, and when you swipe to skim through your recent photos and select one, the word "Edit" shows up on the photo. Tap this, then add text by selecting the text block in the bottom left, or give your ex-boyfriend an evil mustache by selecting the pen icon in bottom right. Note: This Edit option only appears on photos you select by swiping, not from photos that you choose from the entire gallery.
If you tap the smiley face below the text-entry box, you’ll be sucked into the world of Facebook emojis and a cajillion downloadable digital stickers. From here, tap the magnifying glass on the far left to search for the emotion you want to express, like angry or in love, or tap the "+" button to get to the Sticker Store.
Of course, Messenger is big on GIFs. These tiny animations can wake up otherwise-boring chats, so add one by tapping the GIF icon below your text box in Messenger. Type a word or phrase in here to find the right GIF from the large selection of apps that Facebook Messenger supports, and swipe to browse through your options.
More tricks for making chats less dull are found when you tap the "..." button below your text-entry box. These include using voice to send messages, adding Bitmoji into a chat, or playing songs via Spotify.
If your fingers are tired of typing, tap the phone or video icon in the top right corner of a chat to initiate a voice or video call. This works on the mobile app and on Messenger.com. This also lets you make video calls to Android or iOS, while FaceTime can only make video calls to other iOS devices. You can also do it from within Facebook.com, but the icons to start a call are so tiny that most people won’t see them or think or use them. Plus, do you really call anyone anymore? Ever?
Keep track of group conversations in the Messenger app by pinning them. Go to Groups, tap Pin in the top left, choose the group you want to pin, name it (or don’t), add a photo to it (or don’t), and tap Pin in the top right.
If you’re part of a big group conversation that doesn’t seem to ever end, you can opt to mute notifications or leave the conversation altogether. To mute via the Messenger app, tap the name at the top of the message, then from that drop-down menu select Notifications. Choose how long you’d like to turn off notifications — for as little as 15 minutes or as long as "until I turn them back on." To flat-out leave the conversation from within the Messenger app, tap the list of names in the group, scroll to the bottom of the next group and tap Leave Group. The friends that remain in the chat will see a small gray message saying you’ve left the conversation, which is a little weird, but at least you’re no longer there to see it.
Chatting with friends has come a long way from plain text messaging. If you can get your text-happy friends in the habit of using Facebook Messenger, its features are a lot more playful and enjoyable to use.
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