Facebook opens up Messenger app to developers, businesses

Facebook is opening up its Messenger chat application so that other software developers can add new features that will let people include photos, videos and other enhancements to their online conversations.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during his keynote address at Facebook F8 in San Francisco, California March 25, 2015.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during his keynote address at Facebook F8 in San Francisco, California March 25, 2015. Reuters

The app, which has 600 million monthly users, will also be expanded to include businesses seeking to communicate with their customers, who will be able to track packages, make reservations and do other things, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive officer, said Wednesday at the company’s F8 conference in San Francisco.

Zuckerberg is using F8 to strengthen ties to developers whose tools are crucial to woo users who socialize over mobile phones. Facebook is also working with advertisers, news organizations and other companies to offer more features and build a wider user base, which will help attract more marketing dollars and fend off challenges from Twitter Inc. and Google Inc.

“Facebook used to be this single blue app,” Zuckerberg said at the event. “Now it’s a family of apps.”

More than 2,000 app makers are attending the conference. Because of Facebook’s reach — the social network counts 1.4 billion users and more than 1 million advertisers — many developers use Facebook’s tools for building their apps in exchange for access to users and the social network’s set of advertisers.

Facebook shares declined 2.3 percent to $83.39 at 2:24 p.m. in New York. Still, the stock is near record highs, fueled by optimism over the company’s ability to attract advertisers to a widening user base.

More than 40 developers have already made apps for Facebook’s Messenger, David Marcus, vice president of messaging products, said at the conference.

“We want to reinvent the way people and businesses are communicating,” Marcus said. “Lots of companies have tried to build chat services and a bunch of other things but they’re not that good.”

Messaging is a key part of Zuckerberg’s strategy to attract and keep new users. Facebook paid $18 billion last year to buy WhatsApp, a popular mobile messenger app, to bolster its communication platform. Last week, Facebook added a payment service to Messenger.

Zendesk Inc., which makes cloud-based customer-support technology for businesses, said it’s forming a partnership with Facebook. Web retailers Zulily Inc. and Everlane Inc. are the first to use Zendesk on top of Facebook Messenger to offer customer services, Zendesk said today.

Facebook also said that it’s working with media companies to more closely integrate their articles and other content into its social network. For example, when someone comments on a story on the Huffington Post, that comment will also appear on the story on Facebook, Facebook said today. That will start to happen more broadly with other publishers, according to Deborah Liu, platform director at Facebook’s product group.

Additionally, Facebook said that Parse, the company’s platform for building mobile applications, will be enabled to work with other devices connected to the Internet. That will allow developers to create apps, for example, that will let users open their garage doors or control lights in their home.

Facebook’s efforts to enhance features for users is part of its push to generate new advertising revenue. The Menlo Park, California-based company has been expanding in mobile ads as it competes with big technology companies such as Google and Apple Inc. Facebook generated 69 percent of its ad revenue from mobile ads in the fourth quarter.

Facebook is turning LiveRail, it’s video-advertising exchange, into a tool to distribute different kinds of ads, building off of the information it has on individual identities across devices and applications, Liu said

“We want to help you build sustainable businesses for the long term,” Liu said. –Bloomberg

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