Originally a place for people to chat with their friends, Facebook’s Messenger is officially making a home for people to find businesses and bots to talk to.
On Wednesday, Messenger began rolling out a Discover tab to make everyone in the US more aware of the chatbots and business accounts on the Facebook-owned messaging platform. While Messenger opened up to developers in April 2016, seven months later, 78 percent of adults in the US weren’t even aware that chatbots existed. Now, after a year of growing pains for chatbots, Messenger’s mission in 2017 is scaling up the business-and-bot side of its service, and the new Discover tab is central to that mission.
“We’re kind of already the White Pages of messaging apps. With now 20 million businesses actively responding to messages and 100,000 bots out there, we have a shot at becoming the Yellow Pages of messaging apps as well,” Facebook’s VP of Messenger, David Marcus, said in an interview in April.
Messenger had announced that it would debut a section for people to find bots and business accounts to chat with on Messenger in April, when it also announced that it would debut a separate section for people to find games to play on Messenger. While the Games tab rolled out immediately, the Discover tab took longer because Messenger asked bot developers and businesses to submit their accounts for inclusion, and the review process “takes a little longer,” Messenger product manager Kemal El Moujahid said in an interview earlier this week.
A Messenger spokesperson declined to say how many submissions Messenger received and was unable to say how many bots and businesses will be featured in the Discover section at launch.
Messenger’s Discover section will not include sponsored placements at launch, said El Moujahid. But that doesn’t mean Messenger won’t ever sell spots for businesses to advertise their Messenger accounts and bots within the Discover tab. Given that Facebook is an ad-supported company, that even Apple has opened its hallowed app store to advertising and that Messenger opened itself to advertising last year, it would be more surprising if Messenger didn’t eventually add sponsored placements in the Discover tab.
And it’s not like Messenger is against revamping the Discover tab, which will appear in the bottom right corner of the app’s menu bar. Messenger has already reassembled the section since announcing it in April. It has removed sections listing “popular” and “nearby” accounts, and one titled “businesses” that were featured in a preview video released in April. Now, the Discover tab will showcase bots and businesses in three sections, with bots featuring an “Automated Messaging” label to delineate them from business accounts staffed by humans.
A “recently used” section will appear at the top of the tab and list the bots and business accounts that a person had previously communicated with on Messenger. This list — which was added after the April announcement — will not include businesses whose Facebook Pages or Instagram accounts a person may follow unless that person has also messaged that business on Messenger, according to El Moujahid.
That’s a bummer for businesses that have large followings on other Facebook-owned services but have struggled to build an audience on Messenger. The idea of using the Discover tab to make people aware of Messenger accounts for businesses that a person is connected with through other Facebook-owned services but not Messenger was “very interesting,” El Moujahid said. For now, those businesses will be resigned to running ads on Facebook and Instagram promoting their Messenger accounts, posting links to their accounts elsewhere and hoping that their Messenger accounts are included in the Discover tab’s two other sections or that people think to search for their accounts through the tab.
A “featured” section will present bots and business accounts picked by Messenger’s team based on the most popular accounts and the ones it thinks people will enjoy.
Finally, Messenger will arrange bots and businesses into 11 categories: education, entertainment, finance, food and drink, health and fitness, lifestyle, news, productivity, shopping, sports and travel. For each category, Messenger will list the top three bots and business accounts, said El Moujahid.