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Facebook Messenger only needs phone number for sign up

Ever since Facebook reached its goal of one billion users, speculation regarding how the company will maintain and grow its user base has given rise to a number of interesting ideas for making the site an even stickier, more inviting platform for users.

Today, Facebook announced an update to one of its tools that could do just that. Internet users can now sign up for Facebook Messenger with just a name and phone number.

The timing of this software update is particularly interesting considering that earlier in the week rumors were floated that Facebook might be in talks to acquire a company called Whatsapp, which offers a messaging client that also allows sign-ups with just a phone number. But Whatsapp denied the report. "The reported story is a rumor and not factually accurate. We have no further information to share at this moment," a spokesperson said.

Nevertheless, this move represents a bold new strategy on the part of Facebook in that it does away with the company's traditional focus on pushing users to sign up for a standard account, and thus bypasses the myriad casual games and ads users would normally see on its website.

Whether this new approach was spurred by the success of Whatsapp, or simply a long-planned shift in how the company intends to grow its user base, the ability to essentially enter a part of the Facebook community with only a phone number represents a major new phase in the company's development moving forward.

Another way of looking at the change is as a quicker, more efficient way for Facebook to confirm the real identity of its users, one of its primary concerns as it endeavors to make the site something akin to a global identity database. In recent years, Google, Facebook, and other tech heavyweights have taken to using a person's phone number as confirmation of their identity. So this shift of focus from an online account to a phone number-attached messaging client could simply be Facebook's masterstroke toward eliminating any friction in acquiring new users who have little interest in spending hours socializing on the company's website, but remain heavy users of messaging apps.

The software update is currently only available for Android devices; the company hasn't announced a timetable for rolling out a similar update for iOS users.