Facebook Transforms Messenger Into Platform To Distribute Apps

Kicking off its F8 Developer Conference with a bang, Facebook unveiled big plans for Messenger this week. Thinking far beyond text messages, Facebook is turning the service into a platform for developers to directly distribute their apps to Messenger's roughly 600 million users.

Brands and agencies welcomed word of the new Businesses on Messenger service.

“Brands will now be able to communicate directly with customers in threaded conversations on an integrated platform, which will enhance customer care and improve shopper experiences,” said Elizabeth Closmore, global head of product evangelism, strategy and partnerships at Sprinklr.

“By opening up Messenger as a platform, we’re going to help people express themselves in new ways,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told F8 attendees.

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To begin, the Messenger Platform will feature about 40 apps, which offer unique ways for users to communicate from GIFs to videos to audio clips. Launch partners include ESPN, JibJab, The Weather Channel, Selfied, Stickered, Sound Clips and Meme Generator.

Inviting everyone to join the party, Facebook launched a new software development kit [SDK], on Wednesday. David Marcus, vice president, messaging products at Facebook, said a “new optimized flow” will let Messenger users easily find fun apps and immediately put them to use in an existing chat thread.

Trying to upend customer relationship management, Facebook also announced plans to position Messenger at the center of business-to-consumer communication. From email threads that lead to nowhere to irksome automated-phone systems, Zuckerberg called the current state of customer service abysmal. “It just doesn’t feel like the future,” he said. In its place, “we’re making Messenger a place where [people] can connect with businesses.”

After consumers complete purchases on various ecommerce sites, they should soon expect to see an option to receive a purchase confirmation via Facebook Messenger. Once they open the confirmation via Messenger, it will open up a direct line of communication with that business. With the initiative, Facebook is “re-introducing a personal [element] back into the shopping experience,” Marcus said.

In addition to purchase confirmations, the Businesses on Messenger program will also facilitate direct conversations between businesses and consumers, and provide a direct channel for various updates and notifications. Initial ecommerce partners include Everlane and Zulily, while Facebook is relying on Zendesk to support the service's live chat feature.

With the big Messenger changes, Facebook is following the lead of Line and other platforms, which have been redefining the definition of a messaging service. Some in the industry see Facebook’s focus on Messenger as a bit defensive.

“Messenger is Facebook’s answer to the growing concern of the younger generation abandoning Facebook, the social network, for messaging apps like Snapchat,” said Greg Ratner, director of technology at Deep Focus. Defensive or not, Facebook has recently sought to bolster Messenger with a growing list of features. Just last week, it added a peer-to-peer -- or friend-to-friend -- money transfer service to Messenger.

The additional investments in Messenger further solidify Facebook's position as a mobile-first company. Stateside, nearly 80% of Facebook users -- or 123.1 million consumers -- are expected to access the site regularly via mobile device, this year, per eMarketer.

More broadly, mobile payments of all types are set to surge, according to Forrester, which recently predicted that total volume will almost triple from around $50 billion, in 2014, to $142 billion in 2019. Within the latter figure, in-person mobile payments (for example, at retail checkouts) will come to $34 billion, or 24% of the total, up from just $3.4 billion today.

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