- Facebook is revamping its Messenger chat app to focus on Stories while de-emphasizing chatbots, TechCrunch reported. The social network is following through on last year's announcement that it would remove the "Discover" tab, which lets users browse for chatbots, nearby places and businesses to message.
- With the redesign, Messenger's "People" tab opens to show two sub-tabs: Stories and Active. The Stories tab, which now carries advertising, is open by default to show other people's posts that disappear after 24 hours. The Active tab helps to see who's currently online for a chat session.
- While chatbots, businesses and games are hidden, Messenger users can still find them through the app's search bar or through Facebook Pages and ads. The redesigned Messenger app will roll out to users in the next week, TechCrunch reported.
Facebook's redesign of Messenger likely impacts mobile marketers in several ways. Advertisers can buy ad placements in the Stories section, giving them the ability to reach target audiences at a wider scale. Stories have become more popular among privacy-conscious social media users who don't want their posts to be a permanent record of their activities. However, Stories give users a reason to check their social media accounts to avoid missing a post, giving advertisers a chance to connect with people who are engaged with the content.
For Facebook, the redesigned Messenger marks a significant shift in strategy for the chat app, which was downloaded more than 700 million times last year and has consistently ranked as one of the most popular apps worldwide. Four years ago, CEO Mark Zuckerberg touted chatbots as a promising technology to automate customer service and e-commerce transactions. His announcement led to speculation that the company wanted to emulate Tencent's WeChat, the Chinese app that handles dozens of functions with "mini programs" for everything from online shopping to bill payments.
While chatbots have been disparaged for providing awkward conversations and limited functionality, they are forecast to improve with continued investment in artificial intelligence (AI) and natural-language processing (NLP) technologies. Retailers can expect to cut customer service costs about $439 million a year by 2023 as chatbots use AI to handle a broader range of tasks, per Juniper Research estimates. The researcher forecast that retail sales from chatbot-based interactions will soar to $112 billion by 2023 from $7.3 billion in 2018 as their capabilities improve. Facebook isn't abandoning chatbot technology, leaving open the possibility that it will become more prominent in future versions of Messenger.
As TechCrunch notes, Facebook's privacy scandals likely inhibited the adoption of a similar all-in-one app in the U.S. Stricter privacy rules like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) that took effect this year also are changing how companies collect and share about consumers. By simplifying Messenger, Facebook is making the app more like WhatsApp with a minimalist design and is more focused on speedy communications among mobile users. The change may help to boost adoption among a crowded field for chat apps, especially on Android devices whose messaging functionality was once more limited compared with Apple's Messages app.