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Has Facebook left the door open for WeChat?

You have probably heard that Facebook’s Marketplace mobile-only service got off to a bit of a rocky start last week with many items posted for sale in violation of the site’s own commerce policy. This stumble, however, is unlikely to hinder the short-term success of Marketplace, but it does make me wonder why Facebook chose to create Messenger in the first place.

I have never understood why Facebook decided to force smartphone users to download Messenger as a separate app. Rather than operating from a position of strength on the biggest social platform in the world, Messenger is now forced to compete directly with good old SMS, WhatsApp and Snapchat. The move might have been prompted by the advent of newer, more focused social platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and Vine, but a lot of people (like me) find a do-it-all solution to our networking needs quite appealing.

Facebook first started encouraging users to download and install the Messenger app two years ago and the process will take a further step when the messaging capability is removed from its mobile web application. When Messenger was first announced, Mark Zuckerberg justified the change on the grounds that a mobile app can only focus on doing one thing well and that it would offer users a better experience.   

Speaking about the latest change Devin Coldewey, in a post on TechCrunch, dismisses the user experience explanation as “horsefeathers” and states,

“It’s pretty plain for anyone to see that it’s easy to embellish, enrich and, of course, monetize a powerful platform like Messenger, while it’s near-impossible to do so with basic text-based chat.”

The advent of Marketplace proves that Facebook is going to try to monetize the app, but I still don’t understand why Messenger is separate from its parent site. I see Facebook with embedded chat and commerce as a far stronger platform, in part because it plays to the laziness of people like me who do not want to keep jumping from one app to another to do different things.

If you want proof that one mobile app can do it all, then look no further than WeChat. As described in this article from the Economist WeChat is the go-to place for needs as diverse as shopping online and off, booking theater tickets and even splitting the restaurant bill with friends. As the article notes,

“The smartphone is a marvellous invention, but it can be frustrating. In much of the world, there are too many annoying notifications and updates and the proliferation of apps is baffling. WeChat provides an answer to these problems.”

The article goes on to note that Facebook’s incumbency and the network effect has sabotaged WeChat’s own efforts to expand abroad but I am not convinced that is true. WeChat could get a foot in the door, not by focusing on social networking or chat, but by publicizing some of its more innovative applications and once in, then people might find that one app can do it all. Building enough salience and user base to challenge Facebook would be a huge task but not impossible. But what do you think? Please share your thoughts. 

 

Written by Nigel Hollis Executive Vice President and Chief Global Analyst at Kantar Millward Brown.

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