Facebook last week announced that its Messenger app had reached the 800 million monthly user milestone.
Messenger lets users send text messages, stickers, photos, videos, voice clips, GIFs, their location and money. It’s a standalone app, so one doesn’t have to be a Facebook member to use it, and it’s cross-platform, running on smartphones, tablets and desktops.
This year, Facebook plans to make it easier to do business using Messenger, said David Marcus, vice president of messaging. It will look into ways members can build their own space, as well as further improve the artificial intelligence capabilities of M, the service’s virtual digital assistant
It eventually could contribute to the demise of SMS, which Facebook considers an old communication medium.
“Clearly, the hope for all these apps is to replace one another and to replace SMS,” said Al Hilwa, a research program director at IDC Seattle.
“With us approaching full mobile connectivity on the planet, being multiplatform is key, and disentangling messaging from the main Facebook app was a key move in that direction,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
Facebook’s announcement drew a number of user responses.
“Facebook Messenger is the best option available,” wrote Danny Antrim. “Love that it’s cross platform and that you contact people by name. … Using Facebook Messenger as a tool to connect business with customers is brilliant!”
“Good job!” said both Mahmoud Abu Mohammed and Nir Kouris.
“I love Messenger,” responded Marcelo valos, but he added that he would like it to consume less of his iPhone’s battery charge.
Messenger in Business
“Threads are the new apps,” Facebook’s Marcus declared.
“Our early tests in 2015 with brands are showing that interactions will happen more and more in your Messenger threads, so we’ll continue making it easy for you to engage with businesses, and we’ll also do more to enable additional businesses and services to build the right experience in conversations,” he noted.
One such engagement is with Uber, which Facebook has partnered with to launch Messenger’s new transportation feature.
“A lot of transactions are going to be embedded in programs,” said Susan Schreiner, an analyst atC4 Trends. “It’s another way of doing business.”
Further, Facebook reportedlyhas given some developers access to an unannounced Chat SDK that lets them build interactive experiences and bots in Messenger for business transactions, including shopping and travel booking. Devs can create bots that users can send text messages to directly in order to get information, images, location services, product prices and Buy buttons, among other things.
Bots, or integrations, attract users who in turn attract more devs. That has driven the evolution of messaging services such as China’s WeChat and Facebook Messenger into platforms.
Facebook “could become a major player in B2C interactions,” Schreiner told the E-Commerce Times.
“AtCES, you could see that companies are now looking to collaborate, where before they’d just depend on their own in-house apps,” she said.
Building Your Own Space
Facebook is looking at ways to let Messenger users create their own space to communicate the way they want, Marcus said. Groups on Messenger “are the very best way to coordinate with friends, family, coworkers and others.”
That may not quite work because “the threads paradigm is the most useful in messaging and is the prevailing paradigm in SMS today on smartphones,” IDC’s Hilwa pointed out, although “it has been less successful in email, where interactions are more complex and group emails are more common.”
No One App to Rule Them All
It’s not likely that Facebook will dominate the messaging apps field, Hilwa observed.
“It’s a grand battle for connection,” he said. “Platforms will seek to tie up as much of the engagement share-of-wallet as they can in a single platform, but the reality is that interaction will remain fragmented across multiple apps.”
That, Hilwa suggested, is why Facebook is keeping WhatsApp separate.