I heard of Beluga just last week. I own a BlackBerry while my friend has an Android device. He regularly tries out BlackBerry Messenger alternatives and shows them to me. Beluga, which is available for Android and iOS, had him the most excited, particularly because it automatically searches through your Facebook friends and automatically adds other Beluga users. Fast-forward to today, and Facebook has acquired the small startup.
I'll always know Beluga as the BBM alternative that cleverly leveraged Facebook. To the rest of the world though, here's how the company describes the app: "Group messaging made easy. Beluga helps groups of friends stay in touch on the go. Use it to plan a night out or just share updates and photos. It's instant, intimate and simple. Best of all, it's completely free." In other words, Beluga allows users to send instant group messages, photos, and location information across multiple platforms.
It's not clear whether Beluga will exist as its own entity now that Facebook has acquired it, but we sure hope not. Ideally, all of Beluga's functionality should be integrated into the various Facebook apps on all the different platforms. Facebook might, however, have a bit of difficulty convincing Apple, given its strict app policies, and Research in Motion, given its protectiveness of BBM. Actually, RIM develops the Facebook app for BlackBerry, so Facebook doesn't have that much control of that market anyway.
BBM excitement aside, this acquisition should fit very neatly with what Facebook announced four months ago: a new Facebook Messages service that allows users to have a @facebook.com e-mail addresses. The system is more than just e-mail: it combines e-mails, text messaging, instant messaging, and regular messages. I'd expect that Beluga's technology will play a big part in the mobile version of this feature. Facebook will likely share more details in the next few weeks.
"We are happy to announce that Facebook has acquired Beluga," a Beluga spokesperson said in a statement. "Since launching Beluga, we've appreciated all the enthusiasm and positive feedback from our users. We're excited to continue to build our vision for mobile group messaging as part of the Facebook team. 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. We'll be providing more details on future plans for Beluga in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!"