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Facebook buys group text service Beluga

By Laurie Segall, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Facebook is making a play for a piece of the small but much-buzzed-about group text messaging market. On Tuesday, it announced that it has acquired eight-month-old Beluga.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The move gives Facebook both the Beluga service and, more significantly, the engineering team behind it. Beluga has a small but skilled staff of three, all of whom are former Google employees. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., the company is located just a few miles away from Facebook's new Menlo Park headquarters.

Group texting -- services that let you send messages to multiple recipients at once -- is a tiny, niche field right now, but it's expected to be in the spotlight at the upcoming South By Southwest (SXSW) conference. That gathering is known as a launch pad for social media technology: Both Twitter and Foursquare took off after drawing attention at past SXSW shows.

Beluga, which just hit the "1 million messages sent" milestone, said its decision to sell to Facebook would expand its user base.

"We talked to people at Facebook, we saw how much our visions aligned," co-founder Ben Davenport told CNNMoney.

"We have a lot of fans of the app inside Facebook, and we think that by joining forces, we will have an opportunity to build something very powerful for many many more users," he said.

For the time being, the service will "continue to function as it does today," the team wrote on their blog.

Facebook also suggested that it doesn't plan to tamper with the core Beluga concept. "We're excited that the team will continue their vision for groups and mobile communication as part of Facebook," Facebook spokesman Jonny Thaw said.

Also on Tuesday, Beluga rival GroupMe rolled out a new version of its app. The update allows users to share their locations through Foursquare and share photos within the app.

Another contender, Fast Society, plans to release an updated version of its group messaging service next week -- just ahead of SXSW.

"We think it's going be evolution of not only of our product, but of the space in general, " Fast Society co-founder Matthew Rosenberg said.  To top of page

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