You Can Now Order Ubers (And Soon Lyfts) In Facebook Messenger To Prove You’re …

22 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Call An Uber in Messenger, Facebook’s Window to the World.

Facebook Inc. on Wednesday will begin letting users hail Uber cars straight from its Messenger app, part of the social network’s push to open the messaging service to more forms of commerce.SAN FRANCISCO – The growing army of Facebook Messenger users can now order up an Uber ride without leaving the social media giant’s communications app.Instead of the relatively simple programs that Americans use to send messages and photos to friends, 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.

The new feature, announced by both companies Wednesday, allows Facebook to keep its captive audience – Facebook Messenger now has 700 million monthly active users – while giving Uber exposure to a potential pool of new customers. But recently, Facebook, the world’s largest social network, has begun to emulate its Asian rivals, making its Messenger service — with 700 million users — more of an all-purpose platform.

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 whilst still in your pajamas. The pairing will give ride-hailing competitors such as Lyft pause, considering the two companies are among the most powerful tech startups ever, with Facebook currently valued at nearly $300 billion and privately held Uber at around $70 billion.

On Wednesday, Facebook announced a partnership with Uber, the ride-hailing service, that will for the first time allow users in the United States to summon a vehicle from within the Messenger smartphone app. In a group chat, users get an alert that you’ve ordered a ride, and if you wish, you can share a map of your ride location—so your friends or coworkers are sure you’re really on your way to dinner or that crucial business meeting. The new location-based Uber-for-Messenger feature will be rolled out to all U.S. cities by the end of the week, with plans for an international expansion in the new year.

Right now, Messenger users have two options to grab an Uber from a message thread: You can select “transportation from the “…” menu (where you’ll also find payments, location and other third-party apps). 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. “We’re trying to bring expressive content into communications,” says Rosenberg, as he tapped on a message that listed a restaurant’s address. That immediately pulled an in-app screen that either prompted new Uber users to sign up or existing customers to simply fill out the details of their ride. “The goal here is to introduce our service to people when they need it the most, just as they’re making plans,” says Rahul Bijor, Uber’s head of API and strategic partnerships.

Where Facebook’s approach is unique, says the company’s VP of Messaging Products David Marcus, is in its ability to keep the experience a social one, rather than using Messenger as a means to an end. “A lot of the other things that are happening in Asia, it just so happens that everybody is on a messaging app and then they create a platform that uses mainly HTML 5 and embedded web flows, which honestly wouldn’t be palatable for the West,” he tells Mashable, noting that expectations for user experience and app design differ in Asia and the U.S. “We’ve truly woven the experience inside of conversations, and the thread paradigm persists, and that’s a really important part of how we’re thinking about things over here. 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. Alternatively, users can click on a “transportation” button from inside a conversation with their friend, which will also take them to the Uber screen.

Adds Rosenberg with a laugh: “This is also the only honest way to tell friends that you’re actually on your way,” a reference to the fact that once you’ve order a ride, that information appeared in greyed-out text within your Messenger conversation. We want to make sure whatever we build on Messenger or enable third parties to build, it’s always in the context of a conversation or a thread.” Uber has also recently stepped up its efforts to be a part of more third-party services.

The new Uber in Messenger feature can be found by clicking on the car icon or finding “Transportation” in the three-dot “more” menu below where you write your messages. The company swiftly made moves to open Messenger to outside developers (Giphy on Messenger, anyone?) and launched Business on Messenger, which lets businesses send receipts, notify customers when packages ship, and provide basic customer service all within the app. Facebook is even experimenting with an artificial intelligence-powered personal assistant called M that can address (almost any) task a Facebook user puts it up to.

Facebook is trying to turn its social app into a hub for shopping, entertainment and other forms of commerce that could one day provide a new source of revenue. Uber and Facebook have been working on the feature for the past few months. “The stars aligned and we realized this fit with both our strategies,” says Bijor. Unlike the promotions Uber frequently offers, which give a free ride for new users, this deal will also be apply to those who already have an account.

It’s rare for Uber to hand out these kinds of free credits to people who are already users, but somehow Facebook convinced it to create a big incentive to use Messenger Transportation. As with many of Facebook’s recent efforts with Messenger, the company says this is only the first step of what will be a bigger transportation platform. Rosenberg rattled off a bunch of use cases like booking flights or nabbing tickets in the app eventually. “We’re just getting people used to the idea that you can message more than just people on Messenger,” he said. Uber launched its developer platform earlier this year with an rev share offering of $5 per new user to entice businesses to embed the ‘Uber Ride Request Button’ within their apps.

Lyft allows for a similar integration within Slack, but Uber is the first transportation partner to launch with the Messenger app, according to Rosenberg. Marcus says the focus right now is to make the new transportation features available to everyone, rather than the few who have access to the still “very experimental” M, but, he says, that could change at some point. Line, which is popular in Japan, Taiwan and Thailand, also makes money through in-app purchases and by selling packs of online stickers for about $1.99 apiece.

Marcus said. “The way we look at whether an experience makes sense inside of Messenger is if it makes sense within the confines of a conversation.” WeChat, the dominant Chinese chat app, is more like a collection of apps. However, Uber tells us that since the Messenger Transportation feature is built through a private integration, that anti-competitive policy doesn’t apply and Messenger can include other services like Lyft. Made by Tencent, a Chinese gaming and e-commerce conglomerate, WeChat bundles many services, including games and shopping, and new ones are being added every day.

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. Uber has accused Tencent of deleting Uber’s accounts in WeChat, effectively giving Didi an advantage in reaching hundreds of millions of consumers in China.

Group messages are a main attraction, as are recorded voice messages that can be sent like texts, and many companies use the service for business discussions. There are 700 million people on Messenger, according to Facebook and the ability to order an Uber through the app rolls out to a chunk of them in several U.S. cities today. Messenger and Facebook’s other chat app, WhatsApp, could collectively chip in between $9 billion and $10 billion in added revenue by 2020, Deutsche Bank analysts said in a note in June. More than 650 million people regularly use WeChat every month, and the service averages $7 in revenue per user on its network, according to estimates from the research firm Nomura.

Uber has worked with a range of third-party developers to let customers order rides within apps including OpenTable Inc., Starbucks Corp. and United Airlines. Scott Nelson, head of North America for Viber, a popular chat service owned by the Japanese retail giant Rakuten, said every messaging service was trying to find its own formula.

More from WSJ.D: And make sure to visit WSJ.D for all of our news, personal tech coverage, analysis and more, and add our XML feed to your favorite reader. Nelson said messaging apps must find the right balance between simplicity and providing the features that users want — something that may vary by country. “You’ve got to be light and nimble,” he said. “That being said, there is a place for a few things here and there that make the end user’s life easier.” Mr. Blau said it remained to be seen what extra services users really wanted to see from Messenger. “They can add taxis, they can add banks,” he said.

According to company representatives, that’s so you don’t have to re-enter it when you’re browsing other parts of Facebook, for instance, its Everlane shopping platform. For Uber’s part, the company said it’s exploring the possibility of live Uber support from real humans through Messenger, a function that’s strongly reminiscent of Facebook’s personal assistant M. As of today, Uber on Messenger is available in select users in places where Uber operates in the US, including San Francisco, Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, and Miami.

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