Company / division: Messenger
Facebook and Google Dominate Top 10 US Apps List (Aug 24, 2017)
Facebook Adds New Features to Messenger for Businesses (Jul 28, 2017)
Facebook Begins Rolling Out Ads in Messenger Globally (Jul 11, 2017)
Spotify Puts Collaborative Playlists in Facebook Messenger (Jun 21, 2017)
Spotify has launched collaborative playlist creation in Facebook Messenger by way of an “extension” (Facebook Messenger’s apps with its app). This will allow multiple friends to work together to populate a playlist even if some of them don’t have Spotify accounts of their own. That in turn turns Spotify into something of a music layer within Facebook rather than merely a proprietary service, and once again raises the question of whether Facebook would ever want to buy Spotify outright and integrate it more tightly into the Facebook experience. Facebook has so far entirely sat out the music market, doing the odd partnership here or there but never becoming a serious player, even though social features are often touted as one of Spotify’s strengths and an important feature for music services overall (though I have to add that a survey I ran a couple of years ago suggested social features are actually well down the list of the most important features users look for). At any rate, this looks like a neat addition to Spotify’s feature set, as well as a useful integration for Facebook Messenger, and a good showcase of what’s possible in Messenger now that the original bots vision has been replaced by something a bit more realistic and focused, with all the user interface elements needed to power something like this.
Facebook Expands Messenger Lite to 150 More Countries (Apr 27, 2017)
Facebook Lite has been a critical element of Facebook’s recent growth, so pushing the Lite version of Messenger to more countries is a key priority too, since it’s only been in a handful of countries so far. Some of these 150 new countries are the emerging markets where the product is particularly useful because of bandwidth constraints and costs, but also included are mature markets like Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands, though not the US as far as I can tell. This should help keep the growth in Messenger going for a good while longer, because emerging markets are going to make up an increasingly proportion of user growth at Facebook going forward.
Also today at F8, Facebook overhauled its Messenger Platform, which launched last year, and went as far as to call it Messenger Platform 2.0. That kind of separation from the version launched a year ago is smart, because the first round was ill thought out, with the vision for bots both too expansive and not nearly detailed enough. In the year since, Facebook has made a lot of progress, and the version of bots it now offers to developers is much more compelling and better suited to the kinds of things it will be used for. Facebook is also getting better at serving small and medium sized businesses, which continue to make up an enormous chunk of the total base of businesses in many markets. That’s important because these businesses represent the biggest future opportunity for Facebook advertising, which is already well penetrated among larger enterprises. I’m still skeptical that bots have broad appeal beyond a few specific categories, but it’s starting to look like Facebook has cracked at least some of what it will take for bots to be successful in those categories where they do make sense. And it’s less religious about bots as full-fledged experiences now, too, which means that other flavors of automated, semi-automated, and human-driven interactions can live side by side more seamlessly, which is smart.
Facebook Messenger now has 1.2 billion users, its second messaging app to hit the milestone (Apr 12, 2017)
Facebook’s business model for Messenger won’t be payments and commerce but advertising – Recode (Apr 11, 2017)
This isn’t a huge surprise – on the one hand, we’ve already seen Messenger start to introduce ads, and on the other though there’s been some payments and commerce activity within Messenger it’s been clear for some time that it wouldn’t be a major money spinner for Facebook. But it’s interesting to hear this straight from David Marcus, who runs Messenger, because Facebook had been at least a little more opaque on this topic in the past. It’s also been increasingly evident that Facebook has been looking for more places to squeeze ads as it reaches ad load saturation in the core product, and Messenger is an obvious place to do that. But a messaging app is also the place where advertising feels most invasive and least native, because it gets in the way of your most personal conversations with the people you care about most. That’s a risk, and Facebook is going to have to tread carefully here to avoid turning off users as it pushes ads in Messenger. (Incidentally, it’s worth noting that Facebook has just announced a group payment feature, so even though payments aren’t going to be a source of revenue or profits, as this article says they’re nevertheless an important feature of Messenger.)
This change was reported by The Information a while back but has now been confirmed by Facebook: the M hybrid human-virtual assistant Facebook was testing last year has now been released in a much reduced and entirely AI-based role inside of Messenger. That makes a ton of sense and it sounds like Facebook has been successfully testing this feature for a while with positive user response. The only worry I’d have is that it could be seen as invasive or intrusive, both in the sense of invading users’ conversations uninvited and in the sense that it will appear to be “listening” to users’ conversations for key words and phrases that will trigger that intervention. Privacy isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing – everyone has their own preferences and tolerances for the tradeoffs online services can sometimes entail – so I’d expect to see a range of reactions from delight to outrage.
via The Verge
We’ve known this was coming for a while, but there are a couple of extra wrinkles here. First up, let’s get the obvious out of the way – yes, this is another example of Facebook copying Snapchat, although at this point it’s also copying itself, specifically with regard to the presentation of Stories within the Facebook app, which is very similar to what it already does on Instagram. The good news is that it’s avoided the heavy-handedness that characterized its launch of the Stories equivalent My Day in Messenger and to a lesser extent the equivalent Status feature in WhatsApp – this feature is more subtle and slots in at the top of the app a la Instagram, which should lead to less of a backlash from users. One of the weirdest new features here, though, is a new direct message feature, which is an odd Google-like doubling up on messaging given the existence of the Messenger app. There are some other unique features, but several of them feel different for difference’s sake rather than being valuable or more appropriate for the Facebook setting than Instagram, and I’d expect at least some of them to make it into Instagram Stories in time. To take a step back, though, this is an entirely logical next step given the success of Instagram Stories: the latter has over 150 million users out of a monthly active user base of 600 million, while Facebook has a total user base three times that size, meaning it could bring the feature to many more people. And of course, in the process it’s likely to further dent Snapchat’s growth, which continues to be one of the biggest question marks over its long-term trajectory.
via The Verge
Google introduced its own location-sharing feature last week, but Facebook’s is far more limited – it works within the context of a Messenger interaction, and only for an hour at a time, which feels a good bit less prone to accidental over-sharing. It also feels more useful in the messaging context, where you’d be likely to share messages with someone about meeting up, than in a Maps app, which might mean dipping out of a conversation to check the location (even if it might be useful when meeting at a new spot). As I mentioned last week, it’s interesting to see location sharing making a comeback when both Google and Facebook had previously backed away from this kind of thing over privacy concerns – that suggests a certain confidence over privacy issues that wasn’t there a few years ago, although both companies still seem to be approaching this more narrowly than in the past.
With all the fuss about Facebook cloning Snapchat features, it’s worth remembering that not everything Facebook adds to its products is a copy of Snapchat, and this is a good example of adding features that owe more to Facebook’s core product than anyone else’s app. Given the backlash against the My Day feature added recently, it’s somewhat brave of Facebook to add yet more features (and potentially clutter) to Messenger, but these features look like they’ll add value too. And perhaps help to distract from the negative response against My Day.
This feature has been in testing since September, but is now rolling out globally. As I’ve said previously, Facebook has done much better in cloning Snapchat successfully since it stopped trying to recreate the entire app and focused instead on features, with Instagram Stories being the standout example. It’s now rolling out Stories in various ways in its separate apps, with Messenger second to go global, and the core Facebook app likely coming next. And why not? Though I think it’s a little distasteful to see Facebook copying Snapchat so blatantly, it certainly appears to be working, and taking a feature used by a competitor with 160 million users and making it available to ten times that many seems entirely logical.
When Facebook and Microsoft first launched their respective chat bot strategies just under a year ago, I was skeptical – I argued that chat bots have very limited applicability and were ill-suited to the kind of broad app-replacement approach both companies were pushing. What we’ve seen since is a continued re-thinking of Facebook’s vision for bots, which has steadily pushed it in the direction of becoming very similar to interaction mechanisms we already have, whether in apps or mobile websites. As such, the unique value of a messenger-based interface is being eroded almost to zero, and the whole value proposition is being undermined. I don’t think this is the wrong way to go, necessarily – there will still be some interactions for which an app or site-like interface within messaging has some value – but this is further evidence that the original vision for chat bots in messaging apps was overblown. And of course that the idea that these bots would replace apps in a broad way was overblown too.