Facebook’s CALL CENTRE KILLER: Apps sliding into your inbox

26 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Do Facebook users really want to chat with businesses?.

Facebook has turned its chat app, Messenger, into a platform that can integrate third-party apps, letting people send rich multimedia messages, such as GIFs, stickers, and videos. Facebook is being sued by a British engineering company that claims the social network stole its technique for building data centers and is encouraging others to do the same through the Open Compute Project.The new app features third-party apps — allowing users to send gifs and other kinds of posts — as well as attempting to take on email by allowing users to communicate with shops and other companies through the platform.SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Facebook’s Messenger app is evolving into a multitasking tool equipped to send an animated fist bump to a friend at one moment and then get a little business done in the next. BladeRoom Group says it contacted Facebook in 2011 about using its method for constructing data centers in a modular fashion from pre-fabricated parts.

The update appears to be a continuation of Facebook’s aim to keep more people on the network, wrapping up functions that used to require external tools into the site’s own offerings. In a demo on stage at the social network’s developer conference yesterday, David Marcus, Facebook’s head of messaging products, showed off the customer service experience over Messenger (see above). Messenger is one of several standalone consumer-facing apps in Facebook’s portfolio, which now includes Instagram (photo-sharing) and WhatsApp (mobile chat). By the end of April, Messenger will also be adding the ability to display store receipts and shipping information to help consumers keep track of their interactions with merchants and other businesses. Attorneys general and consumer protection agencies in about half of U.S. states are coming out strongly against Radio Shack’s plans to sell off customer data, including 13 million email addresses, as an asset in its bankruptcy.

The push to diversify Messenger addresses a potential threat to Facebook’s ubiquitous social network posed by a variety of mobile messaging maps offering more intimate and direct ways to connect with friends. They’ll even be able to place orders (“I really like this shirt, can I get one in another color?”) over the app and confirm their purchases by hitting the big blue thumbs-up button. “This turns support into a revenue-generating center rather than what many people perceive as a cost center,” Zendesk’s director of product, Jason Smale, tells Quartz. Facebook’s track record in releasing new apps or features is spotty at best, with a trail of outright failures running through the company’s history.

Zendesk, which is powering the first two business integrations for the online retailers Everlane and Zulily, shared the following screenshot, showing the other side of the interaction. Texas, backed by Oregon, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, objected to the plan in bankruptcy court, while New York’s AG threatened action and consumer watchdogs in 21 other states said they supported Texas. This week, as the company announces new initiatives at its F8 developers conference, you have to wonder which ones will end up falling by the wayside.

Amazon is now in the cross-hairs of antitrust officials in Europe: the Wall Street Journal reports that the European Commission is opening an investigation into whether it and other e-commerce companies are illegally restricting cross-border trade. The biggest strategic shift for Facebook FB -3.00% has been creating a family of apps for its users, Zuckerberg said on Wednesday, rather than shove ever more features into its namesake app. Facebook emphasised that Messenger allows all of that information to be collected in one thread — which it says is better than email, where messages can be lost and split apart.

Messenger has matured into a multipurpose tool—users use it to dispatch messages, photos, and videos between them—that functions as the social fabric that connects users on the Facebook network. Facebook is throwing open its Messenger app to third-party developers, letting them add new functions that will make it much more than a tool for communicating with friends. Zuckerberg and his team are betting that people want to use Messenger for all kinds of transactions—as a conduit to call people, for example, or send money. Overall, people who contact support teams using live chat tend to be happier with their interactions over those who do so over email, says Smale. “We take that to the next level with Messenger,” he says, noting that the company is also exploring integrations with other mobile applications. From that perspective, it’s more important to see what Facebook is trying to accomplish with its newly announced offerings, rather than looking too closely at the announcements themselves.

Windows 10 will be in position for the Internet of Things, with an interface to support a wide range of sensors, Microsoft said at the WinHec conference in Shenzhen last week. Facebook’s revenue last year surged 58 percent to $12.5 billion, a performance that has enabled the company’s stock price to more than double from its initial public offering price of $38 in 2012.

And all of those interactions lack any real, natural communication, says Marcus. “Commerce is conversational,” he said, speaking to software developers at the Fort Mason Center. On Thursday it said it would set up a joint venture in May with Korea’s SK C&C, an IT services provider, to develop information security systems for the Chinese market.

That threat is propelling Messenger’s expansion and also prompted Zuckerberg to spend $22 billion last year to buy WhatsApp, another mobile messaging service that has more than 700 million users. PayPal has agreed to a $7.7 million settlement for ignoring U.S. sanctions and allowing money transfers to accounts linked to Iran, Cuba, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Tech keynotes have become like Christmas stockings, a grab bag of new goodies that, handled right, fill gadget lovers and developers with either glee or disappointment. A large segment of WhatsApp’s audience is located in less affluent countries outside the U.S. and western Europe, making it more likely that it won’t be adding as many new tools as Messenger has, said David Marcus, who oversees Facebook’s messaging products. The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control detailed a damning string of instances in which the company accepted and processed 486 transactions totaling approximately $43,934 over a five-year period that it should have stopped.

Most Messenger apps are installed on iPhones and top-of-the-line Android phones, which provide the processing power needed to handle a range of multipurpose tools. From there, a mobile push notification and an opportunity to continue the conversation—from gleaning shipping information from UPS to modifying an order or purchasing another good—within the Messenger app. (Businesses see a customer service portal powered by Zendesk.) Engaging the buyer at the point of sale was purposeful, Marcus said, because there is a high probability at that moment that the user is willing to interact with the brand. “It’s reintroducing personal back to shopping,” he said. “This is about creating rich content and interactions between people and businesses. Analysts widely expect Facebook to begin showing ads with Messenger as people spend more time in the app to do different things, though the Menlo Park, California, company hasn’t revealed plans to turn the app into a marketing vehicle. The goal is to keep innovating, to keep iterating, until something gels with user behavior, gaining enough traction to become a part of their daily lives. You could imagine that in the future, a customer could have have multiple threads open with businesses that you care about, and you could transact and buy things.” You can start to see the opportunity that Facebook detects: hotel confirmations, flight updates, bank account alerts, all within Messenger.

The decision to allow outside applications to operate within Messenger mirrors a pivotal decision that Zuckerberg made eight years ago when he opened Facebook to other programmers. For now, Facebook is targeting partnerships with larger businesses, says Marcus, because their customer feedback tends to be faster and more consistent.

Beacon was re-engineered in Facebook Connect, which also shared user information on third-party sites–and AppLinks, a feature mentioned in the F8 Keynote, takes that integration a step further with deep linking. Marcus, who formerly ran PayPal, is hoping Messenger will follow a similar pattern now that it is operating as an open platform. “We have opened the floodgates,” he said. Facebook Places, launched in 2011 to kill off Foursquare and shuttered a year later, was reborn this year as Place Tips, aiming once again squarely at Foursquare.

Facebook is counting on apps from other developers to enable Messenger users to express their feelings with GIFs, audio clips and other dynamic formats that “will bring a smile to people’s faces,” Marcus said. In his presentation, Zuckerberg predicted messaging apps eventually will include virtual-reality technology, something that Facebook acquired last year when it bought Oculus for $2 billion. Take a few steps back and look at the longer-term perspective and something more significant emerges: Facebook is mutating, virus-like, to adapt to how we interact with each other online. For Marcus and Facebook, the quality of the experience will be key. “If you want to change people’s habits, you need to provide them with something that is meaningfully better than what they have,” he said.

In conference calls with investors, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg repeatedly warn they won’t monetize products until they resonate with a large base of users. Instead, WhatsApp remains largely unchanged, while Facebook is amping up Messenger from app to platform, with an ecosystem of third-party apps on top. By letting users download apps directly inside conversations, Facebook is making it easy to distribute apps virally–a huge draw for developers considering Facebook’s platform. Deals and Gifts were attempts to anchor ecommerce inside Facebook that largely fell short of Facebook dream of getting consumers to interact as closely with brands as they do their friends. If Messaging–which chronicles transactions from purchase to delivery inside a single thread, aiming to make ecommerce as personal as in-store buying–doesn’t achieve that original goal, it’s a big step toward it.

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