Do you recall Orion, the cat from the first Men In Black movie? Around his neck hung a marble-size pendant which, to everyone's surprise, contained an entire galaxy filled with billions of stars.
As fantastically sci-fi as that may seem, it's an apt way to describe a significant shift that is taking place in Internet communications thanks to the advent of Facebook Messenger.
Messenger is no longer just a chat app, but an entire communications ecosystem all contained within an app-like structure that resides inside your mobile phone.
Diminutive in size, with the addition of thousands of "chatbots" - tiny computer programs that use artificial intelligence and natural-language processing to converse with you - it becomes a virtual "galaxy" consisting of more than 900 million users, a number that is steadily growing.
Businesses are beginning to latch on to the power contained within Messenger for customer service and other uses. More than one billion messages are sent every month to businesses from people using Facebook Messenger.
The need to focus on Messenger was made clear to me by Bill Flitter, CEO of dlvr.it, the social media sharing tool, in a blog post he wrote entitled, "Facebook Messenger and Chatbots: What You Need to Know."
In the post, Flitter said that young adults are migrating away from massive public social networks like Facebook to private micro-networks, such as Messenger, Slack, WeChat, and others for their day-to-day communications.
"Messaging apps are a clear indication of the rapid emergence of different kinds of communication tools serving the next generation of online users."
Introducing the Messenger Platform
For years, Facebook has attempted to create an all-inclusive environment where people never have reason to leave.
Users can get news, weather, chat with friends, watch videos, interact with brands, and even purchase products directly from their News Feed.
The shift toward the mobile web, combined with the growing prevalence of chat apps such as WhatsApp, Line, WeChat and others, has led Zuckerberg and company to apply that same philosophy to Messenger.
At the recent F8 conference, held in April, he introduced Messenger as a platform, making its ascendance as "the next big thing" official.
Bots on Messenger
At F8, Facebook also announced the introduction of bots (specifically, chatbots) as an integral part of Messenger Platform. If Messenger is the new web browser, then bots are the new websites.
According to Facebook:
"Bots can provide anything from automated subscription content like weather and traffic updates to customized communications like receipts, shipping notifications, and live automated messages all by interacting directly with the people who want to get them."
Tens of thousands of developers are scurrying to create bots for Messenger, which is impressive considering the short timeframe in which the platform has existed (around two months at the time of this writing).
Brands have bots to assist in finding products, locations, and other pertinent information. There are now weather bots, news bots, personal finance bots, scheduling bots, ride-hailing bots, lifehacking bots, and even personal friend bots (because, you know, we all need someone to talk to, even if it is a bot).
Other Messenger Features
But bots aren't the only game in town when it comes to Messenger. Other features include:
Send/Receive API - The "Send/Receive API" supports sending and receiving text, images, links and interactive bubbles containing multiple calls-to-action.
Messenger Codes, Links, and Greetings - Facebook also added three business-focused features to Messenger: Codes, Links, and Greetings.
Messenger Codes are unique codes that people can scan in Messenger using their smartphone camera to open a thread with a business.
Companies can use Messenger Links to start a message thread with customers. The feature uses a Facebook Page's username (Facebook.com/username) to create a short link (m.me/username) that, when clicked, opens a conversation with the business in Messenger.
Facebook says that companies can use Messenger Codes as links in ads, on their website, or in any other marketing channel to prompt people to reach out to them directly.
Messenger Greetings are customizable notes from the business that appear in a new message thread before they send messages. Businesses can use this text to "greet people and set a friendly tone while letting people know what types of messages are expected," says Facebook.
In his post, Flitter said that Facebook believes Messenger will become a "primary channel for businesses to interact with their customers, replacing 1-800 numbers with a mix of artificial intelligence and human intervention."
Facebook seems to agree but enforces the idea that, in their use of Messenger, businesses must provide value to their customer.
"We are focused on facilitating messages from businesses that provide meaningful value to the people who receive them," Facebook said in the F8 announcement. "People will be able to mute and block communications that they don't want to receive. There are also strict policies for developers and businesses to uphold and we will have review processes to ensure we carefully evaluate how our community is responding."
In Men in Black, Orion the cat was treated like royalty and, although it appeared he had a small role in the film, the part he played was pivotal.
You could say the same about Messenger - it seems like a little thing - an icon on a smartphone screen - but click it, and an entire universe opens up, one that will continue to expand as time goes on.
Businesses would be wise to sign up.