A few thoughts about Facebook’s F8 keynote and the future of Messenger

In yesterday’s F8 keynote, Zuckerberg and pals introduced several new features and development platforms, as well as an impressive mission and 10 year road map (as an aside: I applaud anyone in this industry who has the audacity to create a 10 year road map, regardless of whether they end up executing on it.) While I admire Facebook’s efforts in VR and in live video, it’s the changes in Messenger and the upcoming Age of Bots that is intriguing and may predict (or even dictate) product trends in the next few years.

Zuckerberg started with the numbers. Messenger has 900M MAUs, and combined with WhatsApp, the messaging app used mostly outside the US, handle over 60B messages a day. Zuckerberg claimed that was three times the number of global text messages per day. Zuckerberg said that he believes that  “Messenger is going to be the next big platform for sharing privately” and that some groups of users already prefer using messaging to communicating on a social network.

As a side note: it turns out that Generation Z (currently in their late teens or early twenties, which I thought were called Millennials) doesn’t really like email and thinks that “email is for communicating with old people, the digital equivalent of putting on a shirt and tie.” They prefer chatting, another point for Messenger.

Here’s what might end up being the crux of the matter. Nitasha Tiku says it best: “Zuckerberg’s best guided tour, however, may have been through Facebook’s “playbook.” First Facebook explores new technology. Then Facebook builds that technology into a product. Then Facebook attaches that product onto its existing ecosystem of a “a billion or more people,” who can ease into it.” Facebook’s strategy is not about being on the bleeding edge as much as it is accurately predicting and eventually owning product trends.

Now, consider Facebook’s spin out of their Messenger app. The reason Zuckerberg gave at the time was that it took too long for users to reach messaging in the main Facebook app. The takeaway at the time for mobile product managers and developers was to focus on doing one thing well. Well, here we are only a year and a half later, and users are experiencing app fatigue. “From a consumer perspective, there are just too many apps. New apps, by in large, are not providing nearly enough value for consumers to come back, and most simply replicate existing experiences with a story of a better design.”

So, where does Facebook predict mobile users are going to be spending their time? Messenger. The message for developers, brands and services: build more Messenger bots. The vision is that the user will never leave Messenger and will carry out all conversations and transactions within the app. In Zuckerberg’s example at the keynote, he ordered flowers with the 1-800-Flowers bot, avoiding a call, a web order, or downloading a dedicated app. He predicted that this kind of interaction would be preferred by most users’ in the next few years.

Finally, lest you question Facebook’s dominance in this space and its ability to make this vision happen: consider that Facebook penetration in the US is almost at 100% and it is, by far, the social application users spend their time in. Also consider that Facebook and Facebook Messenger are the top 2 mobile apps in the US, with a reach of 77.7% and 61.7% respectively. Will that clout make Messenger bots the only way to communicate with mobile users in a year or two? Will non-US users prove to have completely different needs? I guess we’ll find out at F8, 2017.

Ordering flowers with the 1800Flowers bot on Facebook Messenger. Source: Facebook via Huffington Post

Ordering flowers with the 1800Flowers bot on Facebook Messenger.
Source: Facebook via Huffington Post

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