The Facebook messenger app.
The Facebook messenger app.

Kārlis Dambrāns/flickr

Following in the footsteps of the Chinese app Weixin, Facebook’s Messenger app is on its way to becoming the next gigantic thing.

Each month in China, 600 million people rely on the social media behemoth Tencent for an unbelievably-wide array of services and activities. Users can use Tencent’s app, Weixin (rebranded as WeChat for the international market), for online banking, booking flights, playing games, purchasing movie tickets, hailing taxis, scheduling doctors’ appointments, contributing to charities, video-conferencing, and more.

Basically, it’s a one-stop shop in the palm of your hand, or, as David Marcus at Wired calls it, “an all-encompassing platform.” Moreover, Weixin seems to be something of an inspirational model for Facebook, as the company recently unveiled similar ambitions for the functionality of its Messenger app for the not so distant future.

Humble Beginnings

Mark Zuckerberg holding forth.

Maurizio Pesce/flickr

In August 2011, Messenger launched as a no-frills messaging app for iOS and Android. Less than two years later, Messenger split from the main Facebook app, requiring users to download the platform independently in order to view messages and communicate with friends on their mobile devices. After the separation, Messenger continued to evolve, and the app soon gained peer-to-peer payments, voice and video calls, and location sharing.

Around that time, David Marcus stepped down as CEO of PayPal, a $50 billion dollar company, to helm Messenger. When Marcus joined the team in 2014, the service had 300 million active users per month. One year later, that number has more than doubled — today, Messenger has more than 700 million monthly users and has passed the one billion download mark on Android-enabled devices.

One Percent

But according to Facebook, this growth represents mere “baby steps” in the grand scheme of their ultimate goal: an all-encompassing, global platform. In March 2015, Mark Zuckerberg (as recorded on Youtube) outlined the scope of Facebook’s plans for Messenger Platform at the F8 conference in San Francisco. The idea is that developers will easily be able to integrate their own apps into the platform, providing tools that will allow people to communicate more effectively.

The introduction laid the groundwork for the app’s explosive growth, but apparently, this is just the beginning. As Julien Codorniou, Facebook’s director of global platform partnerships, casually remarks, “We are one per cent finished…”

So what are the big plans, exactly? Codorniou explains that in the future, “There will be companies built on Messenger, and we are at the beginning of that ecosystem… It’s going to touch companies in e-commerce, utilities, travel, dating… Our ambition is to fuel the growth of these companies. Nobody pays for the clicks they get on Messenger.”

Indeed, Stan Chudnovsky, Facebook’s head of product management for messaging products, notes that Messenger desires a 90% (or more) penetration rate in the markets it already inhabits. He asserts: “We have very big ambitions. This is a hardcore utility — everyone has a need to talk. We’ll look back and say 2015 was when the messaging revolution happened in the western world.”

Marcus underscores the impending revolution: “We see the world as people-based. If we can recreate that, it reinvents mobile interactions from the ground up.”

The Future

According to Jillian D’Onfro at Business Insider, Facebook hopes Messenger will displace other big players like Google, Apple, and Amazon. In fact, if all goes well, the service will no longer be a just a player, but will be transformed into the field itself. With its sights set on commerce – or more specifically, on facilitating seamless communication between customers and companies — it’s quite clear that Messenger poses a major threat to the entire industry.

Regardless of how lofty or far-fetched Facebook’s grand scheme might sound, Messenger’s complete transformation has coincided with the apex of the mobile messaging boom — it’s probably safe to assume this wasn’t just a happy coincidence.

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