Facebook Future The Competition

FILE - In this April 12, 2016, file photo, new features of Messenger are displayed during the keynote address at the F8 Facebook Developer Conference in San Francisco. Facebook is already the leader in enabling you to share photos, videos and links. It now wants to be a force in messaging, commerce, payments and just about everything else you do online. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Facebook, already the leader in enabling you to share photos, videos and links, now wants to be a force in messaging, commerce, payments and just about everything else you do online.

The company’s ambitions harken to how WeChat has become the centerpiece of digital life in China, where people use it to order movie tickets, subway passes, food delivery and rides. If Facebook succeeds in turning its own messaging services into a platform for everything, it could ultimately threaten established services such as Snapchat, Yelp, Venmo, eBay and even Apple and Amazon.

“It’s clear that Facebook does have very broad ambitions here,” said Bob O’Donnell, president and chief analyst at Technalysis Research. “Their goal is to be the WeChat of everywhere but China.”

But Facebook faces numerous hurdles. A key one is restoring user trust, following a string of privacy failures that include the sharing of personal information from as many as 87 million users with a consulting firm affiliated with Donald Trump’s campaign. And any change may cause users to rethink their relationship with Facebook.

“Facebook has a lot of momentum but it’s not completely invincible,” said Roger Kay, an analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates. “People came to Facebook for a particular thing. Offer them a different thing, and they’re likely to re-evaluate whether they want to be there at all.”

After all, Friendster and Myspace came and went as Facebook grew. Yahoo and AltaVista moved over for Google. And remember when AOL was popular, powerful and rich enough to buy the traditional media company Time Warner? Both AOL and Yahoo are now fading brands within Verizon.

After building an advertising-supported service that depends on vacuuming up data on your hobbies, interests and political views, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced last week that Facebook will now emphasize ways for small groups to communicate in a truly private fashion.

This involves scrambling all messages in WhatsApp, Instagram Direct and Messenger so that even Facebook itself can’t read them. Facebook will also let messages automatically disappear after a set amount of time, something rival Snapchat already does.

Facebook, Zuckerberg said, will “then build more ways for people to interact on top of that, including calls, video chats, groups, stories, businesses, payments, commerce, and ultimately a platform for many other kinds of private services.”

Facebook declined to further elaborate on its ambitions, and a spokeswoman reinforced that it is early in the process. But there are clues in what Chinese tech giant Tencent has already done with WeChat in China. WeChat combines functions that are typically done by separate companies elsewhere — think of Facebook and its messaging services combined with PayPal and Uber. People use WeChat to buy goods in retail stores, split restaurant bills with friends, pay utility bills, donate to charities and hail rides from the Uber-like Didi Chuxing service.

Facebook already lets people send money to other individuals through Messenger in the U.S. and a few other countries and is testing payments through WhatsApp in India. The New York Times reported that Facebook is also developing its own digital currency to make it easier for users to send money to their messaging contacts.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.