Messenger now permits people to sign up even if they don't have a Facebook (FB, Tech30) account. The new registration process began rolling out Wednesday in the United States, Canada, Peru and Venezuela.

It's just the latest in a string of recent moves to separate Messenger from Facebook.

In 2014, Facebook launched Messenger as a separate chat app and forced Facebook app users to download Messenger (or use the mobile Web version of the site) if they wanted to instant-message friends on their phones. This year, Facebook started adding third-party apps to Messenger, and the company also introduced a standalone Web version of Messenger this spring.

With these changes, Messenger is starting to look a lot like WhatsApp -- the messaging behemoth Facebook purchased for almost $22 billion last year.

Facebook hasn't yet said that it will combine the services, but a combination makes sense.

WhatsApp has 800 million monthly active users and is the world's largest mobile messaging platform. Messenger has 700 million monthly active users. If those services were to combine, they'd put a lot of distance between themselves and competitors like Tencent's QQ Mobile and WeChat apps.

Messaging has become a more important way for people to stay in touch as they start to tire of big social networks. The oversaturation of posts and updates can make places like Facebook feel isolating. Many people now prefer to share select aspects of their lives with small groups of people.

To sign up for Messenger without a Facebook account, users just need to confirm their phone number, name and upload a photo. Once an account is created, there is an option to sync contacts.

This is welcome news for people who have been thinking about deactivating Facebook but don't want to lose the ability to chat with friends who do use the platform.