Facebook Messenger wants to be the new Yellow Pages

The bots have invaded Facebook's chat app. Now there are 100,000 of them waiting to book you a table or surface headlines at your beck and call.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
4 min read

Now there's a discover tab to help you find new bots.


Facebook Messenger wants to be your one-stop shop for... everything.

Want to check on your flight or buy some Nikes? The social network hopes you'll never leave its chat app.

Facebook on Tuesday unveiled new features for Messenger that aim to give people more ways to communicate with businesses but cut out the tedium -- like talking to customer service people. Facebook made the announcements at F8, its annual software conference in San Jose, California.

"People prefer to use Messenger to interact with companies," David Marcus, head of Messenger, said during the conference Tuesday. "I mean, who likes to call companies?"

One of the new features is a tab called "Discovery," where you can find new, popular and featured bots from brands like CNN, Nike or the NBA. ("Bots" are software that can automatically perform simple tasks for you, like taking an order or making a reservation.) You can also find bots from nearby restaurants and businesses that let you can order food or book an appointment.

Facebook also said it's introducing new QR codes that you can find when you're out and about in the real world, like at a sporting event or concert. If you scan the codes with your phone's camera, a Messenger bot will be able to give you more information. For example, Facebook partnered with the Golden State Warriors to have QR codes at the team's arena that will unlock new fan experiences for people at the game, including ways to get highlights, merchandise and parking information.

"We're the de facto white pages of messaging apps," Marcus said in a briefing last week, referring to its scale with 1.2 billion people using it every month. "We have a shot of becoming the Yellow Pages of messaging apps."

Over the last several years, Facebook has tried to turn Messenger into its Swiss army knife of apps -- a place where Facebook could experiment in several different markets, from payments to food orders. In our interview, Marcus likened the app to a "playground" for Facebook.

With all the new features Messenger has amassed recently, it now competes on several different fronts. Messenger Day, its version of Snapchat stories, competes with Snapchat. Its payments feature takes aim at Venmo. Now all of its local business tools compete with Yelp and Foursquare.

And that could just be the beginning. Earlier this year, when CEO Mark Zuckerberg showed off a digital smart home butler he built as a personal project, he used Facebook Messenger to type in commands. Marcus declined to discuss the possibility of Messenger as a smart home tool.


You can use features from other apps without leaving Messenger.


For now, Facebook is making a big play in the realm of local business. It's not the only big tech company interested in building out in that market. Google has been updating its maps service -- which also has more than a billion users -- to serve as more of a local directory, and not just a tool to help you get to places. Now it has features that tell you in real time how busy a restaurant or bar is, and how bad parking will be. You can also book things like fitness classes through maps and search.

The 'social living room'

Facebook Messenger has been laying the groundwork for its local businesses push for a while. The company introduced its bots initiative last year at F8. The company said Tuesday that Messenger now has more than 100,000 bots on the platform.

Another new feature, called "chat extensions" lets more than one person in a group chat talk to the same bot. So, if you're in a chat thread, you can control other apps from inside Messenger. For example, a partnership with Spotify lets you choose and play music right from a chat screen. ( Apple Music will be available "soon.") An OpenTable partnership does the same thing for booking reservations.

"When I said music was going to be a thing on Messenger this year, I really meant it," Marcus said Tuesday.

There's also a new games tab. Last November, Messenger introduced "Instant Games," which lets you go head to head with friends in games including Pac-Man and Words with Friends. The new tab lets you easily see who's challenged you to a game. And now the games will get more complex, with new turn-by-turn games.

Facebook also said it's adding more features to its digital assistant M -- kind of like Apple's Siri or Amazon's Alexa, but you text it commands instead of talking to it -- which Facebook rolled out to users in the US earlier this month. Facebook's M uses artificial intelligence to make suggestions while you're chatting with a friend. For example, if you're talking about what you want to eat for dinner, M could pop up and suggest nearby places. (It's a little like what Google's Assistant software does with its chat app Allo .) Facebook said Tuesday it's partnering with Delivery.com for food orders.

Marcus said the idea behind all the new features is that Messenger is kind of like a social living room, where you hang out, play games, eat and talk to friends. A living room that Facebook never wants you to leave.

Watch this: Facebook launches Messenger 2.0 with smarter bots

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