Facebook’s Messenger App Adding More Ways to Connect

26 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Everything Facebook announced today at F8.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Facebook is trying to mold its Messenger app into a more versatile communications hub as smartphones create new ways for people to connect with friends and businesses beyond the walls of the company’s ubiquitous social network. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg kicked off the company’s developer conference today by saying the event, called F8, would focus less on product announcements and more on serving the developer community. Photo: Associated Press Facebook Inc. unveiled plans on Wednesday to beef up its Messenger mobile application to allow users to book reservations, track online orders and send custom videos, a push to make the app a tool for commerce. 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. The social-networking giant also announced an embedded video player that will make it easier for users and publishers to host Facebook videos on their pages, and it launched a tool to help businesses track the effectiveness of mobile ads.

Facebook also simplified how users share content online and said it is partnering with several publications, including BuzzFeed, to host reader comments on online articles. Now it’s also talking about integrating GIF apps into the platform—something David Marcus, who runs the Messenger division, sounds particularly excited about. “I don’t know about you, but I find GIFs to be really awesome,” Marcus said when he took the stage at today’s event. “They just make the world a little bit better.” Messenger Business: Integrating Messenger with businesses such as online retailers will provide a direct channel for communicating with customers in real time. The moves mark a deeper commitment by Facebook to develop and extend its suite of mobile apps, which includes Instagram and WhatsApp, as well as Messenger. “Moving from just being a single service to a family of world-class apps to help people share in different ways is the biggest shift in our strategy to connect people in many years,” Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg told roughly 2,500 attendees at Facebook’s annual F8 developers’ conference in San Francisco. When a text, photo, video, or sticker just won’t do, you can now bring apps like Giphy, JibJab, Ditty, and Magisto Shot into Messenger to send song clips, GIFs, and other media to friends.

In a demo, Marcus walked through the process: At an online retailer’s checkout page, a shopper would see an option to receive shipping notifications and receipts over Messenger. The push to plant more features in Messenger underscores the growing importance of apps that enable more intimate and direct conversations than social networks.

It’s a huge figure, and while it’s important to remember that the initial growth was artificial (in July 2014, Facebook forced its users to download Facebook Messenger if they wanted to continue messaging each other on mobile devices), it’s equally critical to point out these are active users. If it’s accepted, Facebook would match the user’s profile to the order. (Yes, this means Facebook would be able to connect shoppers’ identities to their purchases.) Because all communications—receipts, shipping, customer support—would occur in a single thread, the retailer would be able to streamline any changes to the orders, and customers would be able to make additional purchases directly through the app by hitting a big, blue, thumbs-up button on Messenger. Younger people, in particular, are increasingly using a wide range of mobile messaging apps to communicate with different circles of friends, while spending less time broadcasting their activities on Facebook’s more expansive social network. Enhanced plug-ins for embedded videos and comments: As Facebook video grows—it’s currently at 3 billion views per day—it’s working to further exposure.

More than 40 apps will be integrated with Messenger in the coming weeks and months, including a badass-looking special effects app from JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot production company and an ESPN content app. Facebook Messenger’s biggest competitor is naturally the Facebook-owned WhatsApp, and while the company has chosen to keep the two separate, some may be surprised to learn both continue to grow rapidly despite offering similar features. On Wednesday, Facebook said about 40 other apps now connect to Messenger through its new the Messenger Platform, including e-commerce companies Zulily Inc. and Everlane. As for the comments plug-in, new updates would make it easy to carry conversations that occur on news sites that use Facebook comments, such as the Huffington Post, back to the social network. “For publishers, this means much greater engagement in media,” said Deborah Liu, who oversees the Facebook platform. Executives laid out a vision in which consumers can shop online and buy items by sending a thumbs-up icon, a feature that could keep users in the app for longer periods.

Spherical videos: Zuckerberg said both Facebook’s news feed and Oculus will support spherical videos, which are filmed with multiple cameras and offer a more immersive viewing experience. Instead of sending you a new email with every update, like an order confirmation, shipping information, and delivery notification, Everlane will send you a Facebook message.

For the sake of comparison, here are how the runners up compare in monthly active users: WeChat had 468 million as of November 2014, Instagram had 300 million as of December 2014, Viber had 236 million as of January 2015, Line had 181 million as of January 2015, and Snapchat had 100 million as of August 2014. 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.

The Facebook mobile team, for example, used these insights to improve the search bar, and after one year the changes it made helped triple the number of mobile searches. But few big-name retailers have signed up and it is unclear how many consumers will sign up for the service, said Macquarie Securities analyst Ben Schachter said. “This notion that you’re broadening out this platform—that is what’s interesting, not specifically what they showed today,” Mr. Parse for the Internet of Things: Ilya Sukhar, founder of Parse (the developer platform that Facebook acquired in 2013) said the company was releasing new tools to help programmers build apps for connected devices. Other apps have attempted business messaging—including a major play by Path last year—but those efforts have essentially replaced you with a person who calls a business on your behalf. As it has in the past, Parse will take care of the backend—including app analytics, sending push notifications to people at the right time, and collecting crash data—so developers only have to focus on building their apps.

Facebook is attempting to replace a business’s pathetic web chat with Messenger, so you don’t have to pick up your phone to ask questions: Just text them. 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. 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. 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. Facebook isn’t rushing to pull Messenger and WhatsApp closer together anytime soon, as Zuckerberg knows very well it’s bad business to mess with what’s working.

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. Soon comments you make on articles posted to Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, Fox Sports, BET, and other Facebook-integrated sites will show up as comments below those same articles when they’re posted to Facebook. 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. Changes to social plugins and sharing tools only affect people who use their Facebook logins to use apps, but more than 80 percent of the top apps on iOS and Android use Facebook login, so Day one of F8 teased news to come about Oculus, the virtual reality company Facebook acquired last year.

The network is bringing virtual worlds into your News Feed with new spherical videos that will transport you to far-away destinations without leaving Facebook. “It’s a bit futuristic, but it’s an example of the kind of content we expect to see in the system,“ Zuckerberg said. ”We’re starting to see traditional video blend with more immersive content.

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