The option is limited, for now, to people in the United States, Canada, Peru and Venezuela. But non-Facebook users in those countries can use all of the Messenger features, including group and multimedia messaging, by signing up for a Messenger account.
"With this update, more people can enjoy all the features that are available on Messenger – including photos, videos, group chats, voice and video calling, stickers and more," the company said in an official blog post. "All you need is a phone number." You have the option to add a name and a photo as well.
Communication, generally, has become a bigger focus for Facebook as illustrated by its acquisition of Instagram and the virtual-reality company Oculus VR. That's been particularly true since it acquired the messaging service WhatsApp for $19 billion last February -- a service that had a large following outside of the United States. Months later, the company announced that it would split out the Messenger service from the main Facebook app, as part of an effort to build a family of social apps that extends beyond its core social network.
Giving Messenger a larger potential user base is an easy way for Facebook to continue that spread, although its growth shouldn't worry WhatsApp users. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has made clear that he has no plans to merge the two services any time soon.
Facebook Messenger did raise some eyebrows earlier this month when Harvard student (and future Facebook intern) Aran Khanna noted that the service was tracking users' locations by default. On June 4, the company released an update that only shares your location with friends if you actively choose to do so, and the app does not collect background information unless you have that option turned on.
If you've decided to stay off Facebook to keep your information out of the company's data banks, this won't solve that problem. But if you just want to talk to your friends on a platform they're using? Heck, it's easier than coming up with witty things to post every day on a full profile.