Facebook brings apps, businesses to Messenger in face of competition from WeChat, Line
Facebook is following the lead of Asian competitors WeChat and Line in opening its Messenger service to developers, as well as allowing businesses to use the app to handle customer support queries.
The new features mark Facebook's latest effort to transform its mobile messaging service into a full-featured platform with the same pull with consumers and businesses as its flagship 1.4-billion user social network.
Facebook unveiled the new features at its annual developer conference in San Francisco, for the first time allowing developers to create apps that function inside the Messenger service used by more than 600 million people.
Messenger will feature more than 40 different apps in the next few days, allowing users to send each other sports clips, animations and other items, Facebook said.
"This is just the first step toward creating better sharing experiences across this whole family of apps," Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said on stage at the conference.
Facebook has amassed a collection of mobile apps in recent years, including photo-sharing app Instagram and messaging service WhatsApp, which Facebook acquired for $19 billion in 2014. But the spotlight was on Messenger during the first day of the two-day event.
Facebook hopes to turn its messaging service into one that operates independently of the company's social media network as it faces intensifying competition from Twitter and Google, as well as fast-growing messaging apps such as Snapchat and WeChat.
Tencent's WeChat, China's largest real-time messaging app, has a number of apps which work on its platform, mostly centred around e-commerce. Users can pay for taxis, buy movie tickets, and send money to friends through the WeChat app.
Japanese messaging app Line, which recently expanded its Line Pay mobile payments system to global users, has also transformed from a messaging app into a major platform, with gaming, photo and sticker apps adding value to users, and generating revenue for the company.
Facebook has partnered with online retailers Zulily and Everlane to let consumers contact them directly on Messenger to change online orders, such as the colour of a shirt, for example, and be notified when a purchase has shipped. The service will be available in a few weeks.
David Marcus, Facebook's head of messaging products, said in an interview the service was likely to expand to businesses besides retailers.
Purchases can be made by sending a message, provided the store has the consumer's payment information, Marcus said. But he declined to say whether Facebook might eventually process such retail purchases directly in Messenger.
Facebook must pre-approve apps that seek to be integrated into its Messenger service, rather than downloaded separately. But any developer is free to add basic features that will make portions of their apps compatible with Messenger.
Marcus said the new features were not offered on its WhatsApp messaging service because that was accessed on a wide variety of mobile phones, including low-end devices which are not well suited for the new functions.