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Why Facebook Messenger will fail as a 'platform'

Mike Elgan | March 30, 2015
Messaging as a platform is an old idea. Asia-dominant competitors to Facebook Messenger, such as Line and WeChat, have been offering apps, eCommerce, gaming, business apps and more.

Now we know why Facebook ripped Messenger out of the mobile version of the Facebook app last April: Messenger was destined to become a "platform" in its own right, complete with an API and developer program to help and encourage software companies to make Facebook Messenger-specific apps.

The way it works for users is that an interface to Messenger-specific apps appears right there in the Messenger mobile app. When an app is selected, the user is deep-linked to the phone's regular app store where the app can be downloaded.

Messaging as a platform is an old idea. Asia-dominant competitors to Facebook Messenger, such as Line and WeChat, have been offering apps, eCommerce, gaming, business apps and more.

Facebook Messenger as a 'platform'

Facebook demonstrated a horrid range of mostly banal and tasteless apps that had already been created for Messenger by hand-picked partners. The more-than-40 apps include a JibJab "funny button" integration, where someone's head is put on the body of a guitar player or a dancer. JibJab messages became stale more than a decade ago, when they were used to spam email inboxes (JibJab has been around for 16 years).

Facebook also demonstrated other "improvements" to Messenger, including stickers (where someone's face is replaced with a smiley face cartoon), animated GIFs and emoji.

In addition to decorating messages, Facebook also showed ESPN sports scores and Weather Channel updates from within Messenger.

Although tasteful and useful apps could be envisioned for Messenger, all those demonstrated simply added garbage and noise to a medium most people use for its simplicity and directness.

More to the point, every single thing demonstrated was old, stale functionality that has been available everywhere for many years. It's not hard to find weather information, for example. What problem is this solving?

Meanwhile, it's easy to see what problem it's creating: spam and noise.

Facebook promised this week that it would help developers monetize the stuff they built on Facebook platforms, and Messenger in particular is a major focus for selling stuff.

Earlier this month, Messenger users got the ability to send cash to each other (after adding MasterCard or Visa debit card account information). Sending money is as easy as tapping a dollar sign icon in the app.

This week, Facebook announced Messenger for Business, which leverages Messenger as a way for users to interact with businesses. The idea is that instead of calling to order something, get help or to complain, users can Message businesses using custom interfaces. Then these companies could send follow-up messages and who-knows-what after the initial permission has been granted. Messenger for Business will be promoted as a convenience for customers, but the main point is providing access to those customers by companies.

 

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