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The chat feature may soon return to Facebook’s mobile app

BERLIN, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 12: A visitor uses a mobile phone in front of the Facebook logo at the #CDUdigital conference on September 12, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. The world's largest social media network was launched by Mark Zuckerberg and his Harvard College roommates in 2004, and had its initial public offering in February 2012. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)

Five years ago, Facebook began encouraging users to use its standalone Messenger app to chat with their contacts, instead of using the built-in feature in the social network’s mobile apps. It appears that it’s now looking to bring messaging back to the primary Facebook app experience – which indicates a change in strategy for keeping users engaged on the platform

App researcher Jane Manchun Wong tweeted a screenshot of a Facebook feature in the works, which shows a new tab for messaging people right within the social network’s app. Currently, the chat button – on the Facebook app and mobile website – acts as a shortcut to the Messenger app. If you don’t have Messenger on your device, the shortcut will guide you to the App Store or Play Store to install it.

Facebook  upset millions upon millions of users five years ago when it removed chat from its core mobile app and forced them to download Messenger to communicate privately with friends. Now it looks like it might be able to restore the option inside the Facebook app.

That’s according to a discovery from researcher Jane Manchun Wong, who discovered an unreleased feature that brings limited chat features back into the core social networking app. Wong’s finding suggests that, at this point, calling, photo sharing and reactions won’t be supported inside the Facebook app chat feature, but it remains to be seen if that is simply because it is currently in development.

It is unclear whether the feature will ship to users at all as this is a test. Messenger,  which has more than 1.3 billion monthly users, will likely stick, but this change would give users other options for chatting with friends.

We’ve contacted Facebook for comment, although we’re yet to hear back from the company. We’ll update this story with any comment that the company does share.

As you’d expect, the discovery has been greeted with cheers from many users who were disgruntled when Facebook yanked chat from the app all those years ago. I can’t help but wonder, however, if there are more people today who are content with using Messenger to chat without the entire Facebook service bolted on. Given all of Facebook’s missteps over the past year or two, consumer opinion of the social network has never been lower, which raises the appeal of using it to connect with friends but without engaging its advertising or news feed.

Wong’s finding comes barely a month after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sketched out a plan to pivot the company’s main focus to groups and private conversation rather than its previously public forum approach. That means messaging is about to become its crucial social graph, so why not bring it back to the core Facebook app? We’ll have to wait and see, but the evidence certainly shows Facebook is weighing the merits of such a move.

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