Commentary

Facebook Taps Uber As First Messenger Transportation Partner

In their respective quests to dominate how people talk about what’s up and how they get where they’re going, Facebook and Uber yesterday announced a meeting of the mindsets. Select users in the U.S. with an Uber account can now summon a ride directly from an updated Facebook Messenger app, which has more than 700 million users a month worldwide.

To induce trial, the first ride — up to $20 — is free for a limited time. The service will roll out to other markets and countries in the near future.

“In a recent demonstration of the service held at Uber’s headquarters, Facebook product manager Seth Rosenberg showed how a group conversation within Messenger about a meet-up at a restaurant could yield a ride reservation in just a few screen taps, either by tapping on an address listed in the chat or a small icon of a car, “ writes Marco della Cava for USA Today. “Formerly, anyone using Messenger to make plans would have to close that app and open Uber’s app to make the booking.”

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“We’re trying to bring expressive content into communications,” Rosenberg tells della Cava, adding “there are a still a lot of people out there who haven't used Uber yet, and this is a great way to get them. And it's also part of our broad strategy to make Messenger really useful.”

Indeed, “the new feature comes as Messenger moves deeper into its mission to morph from a mere messaging service into a platform on which other developers build their services. Facebook first signaled its intentions when the company cut off the ability for users to message in its core app over a year ago — forcing frustrated users to download the Facebook Messenger separately,” writesWired’s Davey Alba.

Business on Messenger, for example, let’s companies send receipts and the like and Facebook is “experimenting with an artificial intelligence-powered personal assistant called M that can address (almost any) task a Facebook user puts it up to.” 

Uber for Messenger is part of its Transportation feature and will include other modes of getting from A to B in the future, including Uber’s competitors, according toTechCrunch’s Sarah Buhr.

“Both Facebook and Uber sidestepped questions directly about a Lyft integration, but a source close to the matter tells TechCrunch that Lyft will offer rides through Facebook Messenger starting in January. Messenger already partnered with KLM for flight-booking option, but it’s been delayed until early next year,” she reports.

Facebook opened Messenger earlier this year “to outside developers who made photo- and video-editing apps and partnered with online retailers Zulily and Everlane to let users track their online orders inside the app,” report Douglas MacMillan and Deepa Seetharaman for the Wall Street Journal. “Since then, other businesses have started testing Messenger as a customer service channel, including Hyatt Hotels Group and Seattle-based local services startup Pro.com.”

The New York Times’ Mike Isaac and Vindu Goel aren’t alone in pointing out that “Asia’s technology giants have been one step ahead of Western companies in how they treat messaging apps,” but it's their lede. “Popular Asian services like WeChat have become digital Swiss Army knives: People can use them to hail a car, shop for games, buy virtual stickers to send to friends and even shop for physical goods,” they continue.

But Facebook is intent on taking conversations to a different level entirely.

“What is common is this notion that messaging apps can be the place for everything that is happening in your life. The way we are going about it is different,” David Marcus, vice president for messaging products at Facebook, tells Isaac and Goel. “For us, it’s all about context,” Marcus says. “The way we look at whether an experience makes sense inside of Messenger is if it makes sense within the confines of a conversation.”

Or, as TechCruch’s Buhr puts it: “Facebook’s twist is that ordering a car via Messenger alerts those in your chat thread that you have indeed grabbed a ride … instead of you lying that you have while still in your pajamas.”

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