You Can Now Call an Uber in Messenger, Facebook’s Window to the World
Need an Uber? Just send a message. Uber and Facebook said today that US users of Facebook Messenger can now sign up for the car-hailing service and request a ride, all without leaving a conversation or downloading the Uber app.
In a group chat, users get an alert that you’ve ordered a ride, and if you wish, you can share a map of your ride location—so your friends or coworkers are sure you’re really on your way to dinner or that crucial business meeting. Meanwhile, ride status updates and receipts are delivered to you in a private chat message from Uber.
The new feature comes as Messenger moves deeper into its mission to morph from a mere messaging service into a platform on which other developers build their services. Facebook first signaled its intentions when the company cut off the ability for users to message in its core app over a year ago—forcing frustrated users to download the Facebook Messenger separately. The company swiftly made moves to open Messenger to outside developers (Giphy on Messenger, anyone?) and launched Business on Messenger, which lets businesses send receipts, notify customers when packages ship, and provide basic customer service all within the app. Facebook is even experimenting with an artificial intelligence-powered personal assistant called M that can address (almost any) task a Facebook user puts it up to. Basically, Facebook doesn’t just want Messenger to be a way you chat with friends. The company wants it to be the way you interact with the world.
And while its other efforts still feel like early adopter options, Uber is a mainstream service. To order a ride, users must have the latest version of Facebook Messenger installed on their phones. You either start a conversation with Uber and tap a car icon on the menu that runs along the bottom edge of the app, or tap on “More” (the last icon on the menu that looks like an ellipses) to order a ride from there. The more you use the feature, Rosenberg says, the better placing it will get on the Messenger menu.
If you’re within a chat and someone sends an address, you can tap on that address and put in your request for an Uber. You can order a car from most tiers of Uber (except for UberPool) and get price estimates, just as you do in the app, Uber says—and prices will remain exactly the same.
A grey status message in the app lets you know that you’ve successfully called a ride. Your friends, meanwhile, can’t track exactly where you are unless you’ve explicitly shared that information (through the Share My ETA feature).
Becoming an ‘Everything App’
By layering additional services on top of Messenger, Facebook seems to be seeking the holy grail of messaging that is WeChat in China. In China, WeChat is technically a messaging service, but it really works more like an Everything App for its more than half a billion users. In China, consumers use WeChat to accomplish everything from booking a train ticket to getting their laundry done to, yes, ordering a car (likely from Didi Kuaidi, the biggest competitor to Uber in the country).
Many Western messaging companies in addition to Facebook are emulating this model, including Kik, Tango, and Snapchat. In China, WeChat is the front door to the Internet—as well as all Internet-based services that bleed into real life. That’s the same goal Facebook seems to be chasing with Messenger in the US.
A Symbiotic Relationship
So far, Messenger’s progress is promising. Use is mushrooming. The new Uber feature appears aimed at providing even more of an incentive for users to stay within the world of Facebook. Why leave for the Internet at large if you can do the things you want to right inside Facebook and Messenger?
The partnership is symbiotic in other ways. Facebook and Uber declined to share financial details, including whether or not the two are sharing revenue. But all users will get the option to share their payment information with Facebook. According to company representatives, that’s so you don’t have to re-enter it when you’re browsing other parts of Facebook, for instance, its Everlane shopping platform. But it can’t hurt Facebook to get so many more credit cards on file.
For Uber’s part, the company said it’s exploring the possibility of live Uber support from real humans through Messenger, a function that’s strongly reminiscent of Facebook’s personal assistant M. Other possibilities floated included the ability to use some of Uber’s more unconventional applications, like ordering meals and kittens, to send to your friends through Messenger.
As of today, Uber on Messenger is available in select users in places where Uber operates in the US, including San Francisco, Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, and Miami. Within a week, the companies say, the feature will be available everywhere else in the US that Uber operates. (Uber claims 75 percent of the US population lives in a county where they have access to Uber.) An international rollout is also expected—though Facebook and Uber declined to say when. Meanwhile, while this integration makes Uber the first official transportation option on Messenger, it may not be the last. Facebook hasn’t promised Uber an exclusive on providing on-demand rides through Messenger. Facebook, it seems, wants Messenger to be a window on the whole world, not just Uber’s.