Zuckerberg wants the Facebook Messenger platform to replace iOS and Android platforms

Enterprises lag far behind internet companies in mobile customer engagement. Facebook’s Messenger platform could change that.

Facebook Messenger platform
Credit: Facebook

Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook Messenger will become the next platform with the addition of chat-bots and AI linked to Facebook business pages. Did he really mean the next platform will replace Android and iOS mobile platforms? Unquestionably he did. Messenger has now been promoted to the Messenger platform, raising expectations of former PayPal President and Facebook Messaging Vice President David Marcus.

Zuckerberg has an uncontestable vision: consumers would rather interact with businesses via a text chat that resembles one with a friend instead of telephoning a call center or using another frustrating form of B2C communications. In this scenario, customer service is delivered via the Messenger platform that can be programmed with a chat-bot to respond to customer chat messages. A B2C merchant will be able build Messenger plug-ins for customer service and sales assistance. The bot could learn on its own to be more helpful by adding a separate AI and machine-learning module. It’s still a vision; the chat-bot and AI beta was released yesterday for innovators to start testing.

Recently chat-bots have emerged as the next big thing in mobile. Microsoft dedicated a lot of airtime to its vision of bots during its recent Build developer conference, and blogger and luminary venture capitalist Benedict Evans recently published a widely read chat-bot explainer. Chat-bots are autonomous or semiautonomous apps that interact conversationally with people using natural language.

In theory, adding AI to a chat-bot could help it learn from each human interaction over time to respond better to user requests. Facebook recruited one of the top AI scientists in the world, Yann Lecune, who proved that an artificially intelligent assistant can autonomously interpret photos and answer questions very accurately. The short video below taken from Lecune’s talk at the MIT Technology Review’s emerging technology conference, EmTech, explains how a bot can answer a limited set of questions about knowledge it acquired independently from humans through machine learning that resembles the Messenger platform AI use case.

Zuckerberg isn’t targeting big B2C mobile internet companies such as Spotify, Twitter or Amazon Mobile that have scale and operate their own end-to-end ecosystem. Most B2C companies don’t have the same web and mobile design and development resources needed to build and scale a first-degree relationship with their customers like those internet companies. Instead they rely on second- and third-degree customer relationships through mobile advertising. Often, they advertise with Google, Facebook and other mobile ad platforms to attract purchases and then fulfill much of the order volume through Amazon, barely engaging with or acquiring data assets about their customers.

The Messenger platform could be a compelling first-degree customer engagement option. A graphically rich, customer interaction bot can be built on the Messenger platform without suffering the limited transactional capabilities of a mobile web app or incurring the expense of employing iOS and Android specialists to build an app. Most enterprises can’t afford to staff two separate mobile development teams, and those that can rarely are able to recruit all the developers they need. Programming a Messenger platform chat-bot as envisioned by Facebook has many of the rich features of a mobile app that can be implemented by the much larger pool of JavaScript developers who work for enterprises. The back-end app can be implemented with almost any language, such as Java, PHP or Python, with the Messenger platform APIs, vastly increasing the pool of developers who can build mobile advertising and ecommerce solutions.

Marcus’ short demonstration video below of the shopping app provides some context to help imagine the use case for the Messenger platform.

When the Messenger platform reaches the production-ready 1.0 release Zuckerberg envisions, it will empower enterprises that otherwise wouldn’t be unable to interact with customers on their smartphones, especially SMBs that have a Facebook business page and buy Facebook mobile advertising. Newsfeed ads will attract the 900 million Facebook Messenger users who already send more than a billion messages per month to businesses on Facebook to the Messenger platform to view and buy merchandise or interact with news and other types of apps. If consumers elect to install plug-ins from a preferred brand that has a page on Facebook, the relationship becomes more app-like, adding features like notifications and extending the UI.

AI-powered chat-bots could help enterprises, especially SMBs to engage with their customers on mobile devices in app-like interactions that most are under-resourced to deliver. Forward-thinking enterprise marketing, customer service and IT executives should follow the development of the Messenger platform. When chat-bots evolve to production release, enterprises in Facebook’s ecosystem will have an unprecedented chance to create a first-degree relationship with their customers.

To comment on this article and other Network World content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter stream.
Must read: Hidden Cause of Slow Internet and how to fix it
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.