Facebook Buys Beluga, Founded by Former Google Engineers

Facebook acquired mobile messaging startup Beluga, whose group chat software will live on at the company for the foreseeable future.

Facebook March 1 said it has acquired Beluga, a group messaging startup founded by three former Google employees.

Beluga's software, which will continue to work for its existing users for the near future, allows people to conduct group chat sessions via SMS from their mobile phones. Beluga users create a "pod," or group of people, with whom to share messages, pictures and locations.

TechCrunch broke the story. Facebook, normally prone to providing nondescript confirmations when it buys and closes startups, was unusually effusive in its note to reporters:

"We're psyched to confirm that we've just acquired the talent and assets of Beluga, whose simple and elegant mobile apps blew us away as a solution to help groups of friends stay in touch on the move."

Facebook added that it looked forward "to welcoming co-founders Ben Davenport, Lucy Zhang and Jonathan Perlow, and we're excited that the team will continue their vision for groups and mobile communication as part of Facebook."

The part that stands out is that Facebook will keep Beluga, or at least the technology behind it, alive on the social network.

The move is a departure from Facebook usual acquisition strategy. The company has acquired companies such as mobile messaging specialist Hot Potato, online storage provider Drop.io, group photo specialist and a dozen more startups, only to close up the shops and assigned the developer talent behind them to other tasks.

Beluga's co-founders said in a brief blog post that they planned to build its vision for mobile group messaging "as part of the Facebook team." They vowed to offer more details on future plans for Beluga in the coming weeks.

The suggestion is that Beluga will remain open until Facebook launches a comparable chat service for handsets, and politely suggests users port their info to the social network.

Facebook boosted desktop-based communications on the social network with its Groups and Messages services last year, but its mobile app doesn't benefit from such capabilities. Beluga's group messaging, location integration and photo-sharing may be breath of fresh air the company craves for the mobile app.

The Beluga founders have the kind of pedigree Facebook loves: they all worked for Google. CEO Davenport helped build Google AdSense. President Zhang helped design and develop Google AdWords, Google News and Google Docs.

CTO Perlow was a Google senior engineer who led Gmail's user interface and server scalability efforts, and oversaw Gmail Chat.