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Connectivity

Facebook Lets Developers Build on Its Chat App

Facebook hopes that adding functionality like video sharing and shopping to Messenger will help it grow even as competition rises.

Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with 1.4 billion users.

Facebook is responding to the growing popularity of mobile messaging apps by giving its own messaging app new capabilities. The company will let developers make their apps work within Facebook Messenger, and is also making it possible for shoppers to chat with businesses using the app.

During a presentation at the social network’s F8 developer conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook wants to make it easier for Messenger’s 600 million users to share more content—animated GIFs, videos, or animated greeting cards, for example—through Messenger itself, rather than by leaving the chat app. To do that, Facebook is rolling out Messenger Platform, which developers can use to make Messenger apps for sharing various kinds of media.

You can already share photos, videos, stickers, and maps of your location over Messenger, as well as make voice calls through the app and, as of recently, send money to another user. But allowing outside developers to integrate with the app could give Messenger an advantage over newer chat apps like WeChat and Snapchat.

In a demo, Facebook’s Messenger head, David Marcus, pointed out a three-dot icon near the bottom of the Messenger screen on a smartphone; pressing it yielded a list of apps already installed for use with Messenger (in this case, a personalized emoji-maker called Bitmoji and a text customizer and animator called Legend). Users can create an animated expression like “I’m so excited!” using Legend, for example, and send it through Messenger to a friend who will be able to see it even if they don’t have the Legend app. Marcus also showed how other apps could be installed from a Messenger app store.

Messenger Platform became available Wednesday, and Marcus said that more than 40 apps are participating.

Facebook also unveiled a plan to let businesses chat with customers in a new way. The hope is that when you’re buying something online, a retailer will let you choose to be contacted via Messenger about your order, and if you assent, you can see an order confirmation, shipping details, and other information in the app. You’ll even be able to do things like change your order or, as a demo with online clothing retailer Everlane indicated, buy additional items via chat.

Everlane and daily-deal clothing site Zulily will be among the first companies using the service in the next few weeks, and additional merchants will be added in the coming months.

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