2016 was a year of significant change for Facebook Messenger. They introduced their new Messenger Bots platform back in February, released a re-vamped layout for the app in June, brought in Snapchat-like tools and features and games to add more functionality and rolled out multi-participant video chat to close out the year. And those are just the major updates - there were several other tools and features announced, all of which add to the growing functionality of the app.
Messenger also crossed the major milestone of one billion monthly active users in 2016, while messaging, as a practice, continued to grow and become a more important part of people's interactive process. The numbers underline why Facebook's so focused on evolving the platform's tools - the opportunity is massive.
And if Facebook has their way, Messenger will become a much more important consideration in 2017 and beyond.
So what's coming next for Messenger? This week, Facebook's Vice President of Messaging Products David Marcus outlined some of the key areas of focus for the app, which provide some interesting insight into where's they're headed.
Here were Marcus' key points of emphasis.
1. Virtual Living Room
It seems a slightly odd analogy, but Marcus noted that Messenger's ambition is to become 'your virtual living room'.
"...your living room is where you hang out with your family or friends, you talk, you look at photos and videos, you make plans, you shop, you share experiences, you comment on live events, you play games, and sometimes you just goof around. Expect us to do more to enable you to recreate these types of interactions with truly anyone in the world at any given point in time. "
Marcus' wording here is interesting, noting both group discussion and live events. This would suggest that Messenger will be looking to put more emphasis on group interaction, like they have with group video chats, and easier ways to engage with others while watching major events and such. Maybe a way to better integrate group chats around particular topics?
Group video discussion has proven popular with another live-streaming app, Houseparty, so it makes sense that Messenger might look to use that impetus to facilitate more in-app engagement.
The mention of photos and videos points to new tools to enable easier sharing of your content, while shopping, of course, is tied into Messenger's wider eCommerce ambitions - and you can definitely expect to see the Messenger Business Platform continue to evolve on this front.
It's interesting to consider the approach, what the Messenger team intends for the app to become. What other applications could the platform introduce to become a "virtual living room"?
2. Visual Focus
Marcus makes mention of the bigger focus on visuals in Messenger, with a specific note on the addition of the new Messenger camera.
"We built a fast, feature-rich camera as a way for you to share visually everyday - whether it's a video clip or quick selfie or a silly moment. We took the new camera a step further by adding whimsical art, new stickers and custom frames for you to add as well as 3D masks."
As we've noted previously, Facebook's on a mission to eliminate Snapchat as a threat, and as such, they've been introducing more and more Snapchat-like tools in their products. These are interesting, and no doubt such tools have slowed Snapchat's momentum somewhat, but where Facebook will really win out is when they can introduce better, more engaging tools and features than those that are available in Snapchat. That's when users will start switching across - if/when Facebook can make their platform tools the thing people want to show off to their friends.
Given Marcus' note on this front, you can expect to see more and better tools like this in Messenger moving forward.
3. Messenger Discovery
Marcus also notes that they're working to improve discovery in Messenger:
"...now you don't need to know someone's phone number to chat with a friend or even a business (instead of calling them...)."
This is a key value proposition for Messenger, that it facilitates simple, direct connection with brands. For the brands themselves, that type of connection can be difficult to scale - which is why Messenger Bots are a logical progression - but for consumers, that immediate ability connect, within the app they already use every day and are familiar with, could be a much bigger draw. If Messenger can get that discovery element right.
"We think a lot about how we can make this global Messenger directory simple and easy to use. On this front, expect us to build more capabilities that will enable you to find people and businesses more easily."
Improved search and discovery on Messenger could be a big shift - it's worth businesses paying attention to this element.
4. Working with Developers
And Marcus' final point of emphasis is on the developer community, and how Messenger will continue to work with developers to help them build better experiences within the app.
"By the end of 2017 we'll see an increase in hybrid UI and conversational experiences and easier ways to discover these experiences on Messenger, with more social ways to share. Also, we'll see increased automation thanks to more progress on the AI front."
This, again, points to the ongoing development of their bots platform, which, as noted, is likely a necessary element for brands looking to facilitate more direct connection via message.
Where Messenger will likely put bigger focus on this element in 2017 is on helping smaller businesses create their own bots, with easier, simpler tools and features that can make it a more accessible option.
The note on social sharing, too, points to improved bot discovery, which has proven to be a challenge thus far. For example, there are now more than 34,000 bots active on the Messenger platform - how many can you name?
Improving the awareness of both the existence and benefits of bots will play a big role in building out Messenger's expanded eCommerce ambitions.
As noted, 2016 was a big year for Messenger, and the insights here provide some key notes on where the platform is headed. And with more than a billion users, it's hard to ignore the potential of Messenger as a business platform. It hasn't taken off as such yet, but the app's active user count has continued to grow along with the introduction of newer tools and options, which shows that users are open to expanding their usage of the app.
It's worth taking note of what's coming next.