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Facebook Messenger Is the New Facebook

Facebook used its f8 developer conference to lay out its vision for Messenger.

Last week, when I needed to contact the customer service department of a benefits company called TASC in order to inquire about the whereabouts of a debit card I had requested more than two months prior in order to buy a MetroCard so I can, you know, get to work, it quickly devolved into a series of unanswered phone calls and emails. Days went by with nary a peep from the company, until I finally managed to track down a supervisor who basically told me to sit tight—as if I hadn't been sitting tight since early February. It wasn't fun!


Mark Zuckerberg, of all people, thinks he may have been able to help.

Well, think his rapidly growing Messenger app may have been able to help.

At the Facebook f8 developer conference on Tuesday, Facebook unveiled its grand vision for the future of Messenger, the stand-alone messaging app that, until now, has primarily revolved around providing a simple way for more than 900 million people to, say, make plans for the weekend or send each other silly GIFs. (Naturally, I'm partial to puppy GIFs.)

But if Zuckerberg has his way, Messenger in the future won't simply be a souped-up version of AIM or BBM, but will instead be an entire platform unto itself, allowing you, for example, to order a couple of pizzas in time for the big game, check your bank account balance before planning a trip to Vegas, and, yes, allowing businesses to address customer service complaints.

"You probably interact with dozens of businesses every day, but I've never met anyone who likes calling a business… or installing a new app to interact" with a business, said Zuckerberg.

It's not just customer service that Facebook is looking to improve, of course. Zuckerberg also announced the creation of a bot platform that lets developers create mini apps inside Messenger. CNN, for example, will be able to send you a news digest with the day's top headlines, while 1-800 Flowers will be able to mail your friend a dozen roses.

These kinds of bots are going to be all over the place in the coming years, with Microsoft only a few days ago announcing similar bot support for its own apps like Skype. There was also Tay, which… perhaps didn't go quite as Microsoft had expected.

Keen observers of messaging apps know that, for all of Zuck's techo-optimism about the promise of Messenger, Facebook is basically emulating the strategy of WeChat, a Chinese messaging app that similarly lets people do things like book doctor appointments and buy movie tickets. And some of WeChat's trappings can already be found in Messenger: You've been able to send your friends money since last May and hail rides (with Uber) since December. None of this is new, in other words, but it may be new to you.

So why is Facebook building out Messenger like this, and why should you care? Well, as the core Facebook product matures—News Feed shares of personal items, like status updates or wedding announcements (as opposed to merely sharing video and news article links) are declining, which may eventually translate into fewer visits to the moneymaking News Feed—it's important for Facebook to make its other products, like Messenger, as sticky as possible. That means, whether you realize it or not, you'll be spending just as much time with Facebook even if you're not inside the core Facebook app.

And you know, I might be willing to make that trade-off if I can avoid the nightmare of last week's customer service meltdown.