Facebook Messenger Has a New Home Screen to Lure You Away from Apps
Facebook wants to make Messenger the app to anchor a post-app Internet that lets you do everything within a chat. Need an Uber? Summon it through Messenger. Need to make a restaurant reservation? Let a chatbot do it.
Facebook took another step toward that goal today by giving Messenger a new twist on a familiar concept: the home screen. Instead of the infinite scroll of conversations you’re familiar with, the Home tab organizes Messenger into recent conversations, favorites, active users, and messages awaiting a response. A handy shortcut also reminds you about any Facebook friends celebrating a birthday today. “We’re hoping this helps extend and open up the functionalities of Messenger to more people,” says Facebook product manager Andrew Song.
The tweaks make Messenger pre-populate your “favorites” list according to the people you exchange messages with most often. The active users list identifies people who are browsing Facebook or using Messenger at that moment. And Facebook improved the search feature to more quickly find whatever you’re looking for, even if the conversation happened years ago.
Home Away from Your Home Screen
The redesign may seem like no big deal—a small reorganization rather than a grand change. But it’s all about Facebook trying to make you ever more reliant upon its services to interact with friends, and using that to make you more dependent upon it for everything else. After all, unlike Apple or Google, Facebook doesn’t have its own mobile operating system or hardware locking you into its products and services.
Still, Facebook does have an advantage over those companies: your time and attention. Many people already spend more of their time online with Facebook than any other app or platform. At last count, Facebook has more than 1.65 billion monthly users, and Messenger has 900 million. The more time you spend within Messenger, the thinking goes, the more likely Facebook can use it to reach into other parts of your life.
The social network already encourages users to use Messenger bots to communicate with customer service and summon an Uber. And it’s not alone in this bot obsession. Microsoft and Google are pushing them into their own messaging apps, and so are a myriad of other startups, from Slack to Hipchat to GoButler. In China, a messaging service called WeChat is all the rage, with people tapping it to do everything from ordering train tickets to booking medical appointments. Facebook—along with other American tech companies—see this model as the future and the holy grail of messaging. With the reorganization of Messenger’s home screen, Facebook gets at least a little closer to its objective of becoming the broker between you and everyone else, human or bot.
After all, the home screen metaphor connotes the place where people access their apps. If services on Messenger are to replace apps, they must be easy to find. Song says the focus for now is helping users navigate Messenger to connect with friends. But he acknowledges there may be a day when the Messenger home screen includes tabs for businesses and bots. “We want to peel away that onion over time,” he says. But the question is, as Facebook makes Messenger more welcoming, can it persuade people to make it their post-app home?