Having a large userbase might seem like a blessing, but it also surfaces a problem for social networks: monetisation.
Twitter’s experiencing this right now, and Facebook is seemingly just beginning its trials. To prevent itself from becoming the latest victim of the 140-character effect, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took to the stage at the company’s F8 developers conference, and rang the changes.
But no, we’re not talking about Facebook proper. We’re talking about Messenger.
Facebook Messenger now has over 1.2-billion users, a figure four times greater than Twitter, and double that of Instagram. And with all those users available, Facebook smells massive financial possibilities and a big plan.
That plan is called Messenger 2.0.
Leading Messenger 2.0 is the company’s acute focus on chatbots.
A new app store will feature on the Messenger home screen just for these smart AI contacts. The repository will be dubbed Discover (where have we heard that name before?) and will allow users to more easily find, browse and see which bots are hot.
It’s a simple idea, but one that’s obviously beneficial to bot builders and users. Make bots easier to find should increase the usage of bots.
A number of companies have also announced that they’re working on chatbots for Messenger.
“Wells Fargo’s chatbot will use artificial intelligence to respond to natural language messages from users, such as how much money they have in their accounts, and where the nearest bank ATM is,” a Reuters-supplied Fortune piece explains.
The latter is pretty interesting too.
Facebook Messenger’s head David Marcus explains that the Golden State Warriors bot will allow users to scan QR codes at its stadium to order food, purchase merch, or access team info. This also fits in with Facebook’s overall plan to provide Messenger users with ecommerce opportunities and financial services.
While the likes of PayPal and American Express still use the service in the States and Europe, it’s not big business in South Africa just yet.
Other services plugging into the Messenger hype are Apple Music and Spotify. The music-serving platforms will allow users to share tunes through Facebook’s app. This is part of Facebook’s “chat extensions” programme, which allows third-party apps to plug themselves into Messenger.
“The Spotify bot for Messenger will serve up playlist recommendations based on mood, activity, or genres,” Spotify explains on its blog.
“With the associated Messenger Chat Extensions feature, people can search and share Spotify songs, albums, and playlists directly with friends without ever leaving the Messenger app.”
This has wide implications for various industries too, including restaurants, hotels and the transport industry.
The already-cluttered Messenger home screen will also get a games tab, because, you know, that’s still a thing.
The Keepy-Uppy challenge is now long gone, but the company still feels that there’s room for gaming within Messenger itself.
“With over 1.5 billion games played in just the last 90 days, now we are adding some additional product features like game bots and Rich Gameplay (turn-by-turn games) to make your gaming even more fun,” Facebook’s David Marcus explains.
The service is now more visible to those in Messenger thanks to a tab on, you guessed it, the home screen.
Finally, we should mention Facebook’s AI service “M”.
With the help of artificial intelligence, Facebook Messenger is poised to react contextually to your conversations. If you’re chatting about Mexican food, Messenger might suggest restaurants in your vicinity, or even nudge you to order an enchilada through one of its partners (at least if you’re in the US).
This is on the back of the company’s newly-launched suggested responses feature, and we doubt the company’s slowing down on this front anytime soon.
So ultimately, Facebook Messenger is suffering from deliberate feature creep. It’s a ploy by Facebook to shove as many features into a single application that it suggests is the real driving force behind the company’s forthcoming growth spurts.
South Africans won’t see these features immediately on their smartphones or browsers, but we should expect a gradual release of at least some of these within 2017. We’ll keep you abreast of any developments on that front.
But at least one thing’s clear from the first day of F8: Facebook Messenger is no longer just a chat application. It’s Facebook’s next evolution.