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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.

Users in recent years have gravitated away from email, and even Facebook for that matter, because of the junk. Apps like Facebook Messenger have served as refuges from the spam and noise of other media.

Now, Messenger as a platform threatens to undo all that, bringing the worst kind of annoyances to Messenger.

The ash heap of failed Facebook products

Facebook's desire to convert its 600 million users into paying customers for advertisers is only the latest attempt. All previous attempts failed. Here's my list of bold new Facebook products, designed to monetize users, replace Internet features or boost engagement:

  • Facebook Home, which was an attempt to put Facebook as a skin on top of Android.
  • Facebook Deals, a coupon service launched in 2011.
  • Facebook Gifts, a way for Facebook members to send actual, physical gifts to other members — gifts like candy, cookies and stuffed animals.
  • Facebook Offers, basically coupons that could be redeemed when buying stuff online.
  • Facebook Credits, a virtual currency (each "Credit" was worth a dime) for buying virtual goods on FarmVille and other Facebook-embedded games.
  • Autofill with Facebook, which was meant to use Facebook credentials to buy things outside Facebook (It required users to add their credit card information into Facebook).
  • Facebook Inbox, which gave each Facebook users an email address.
  • Facebook FBML, Facebook's failed attempt to replace HTML with its own proprietary version.
  • Facebook Lite, which was a minimalist version of Facebook.
  • Facebook Poke, the company's first attempt at a Snapchat killer.
  • Facebook Slingshot, the company's second attempt at a Snapchat killer.
  • Facebook Questions, which is a kind of polling feature that was tried and then discontinued.
  • Facebook Places, a response to the then success of Foursquare, enabled users to check in to locations and share their locations on Facebook.
  • Frictionless sharing, an approach to sharing without user intervention promoted by CEO Mark Zuckerberg at F8 in 2011.
  • Facebook Beacon, an idea for Facebook to track what users bought online, then share that information with Facebook advertisers so they could be targeted better with Facebook ads.
  • Facebook Sponsored Stories, a way to convert "Likes" into testimonials, often without the permission of users. A $20 million lawsuit led to a settlement and the killing of Sponsored Stories.
  • The Facebook Phone, also called the HTC First, which flopped disastrously.

What all these initiatives have in common is that Facebook launched them to increase monetization or engagement in ways that benefited Facebook but which duplicated functionality that existed outside Facebook. Usually, these initiatives were specifically aimed at Facebook users who were doing things outside Facebook that the company wanted to bring into the social network.  For example, people were using Groupon or Snapchat, and Facebook wanted to offer an alternative inside Facebook.

That's what's happening again with Messenger as a platform. Facebook sees that people have been using JibJab, stickers, emojis and getting sports and weather outside Messenger, and Facebook wants users to do the same thing inside Messenger.


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