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Facebook Messenger will become a platform, starting with friend-to-friend payments

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Facebook Messenger will become a platform, starting with friend-to-friend payments

Facebook Messenger app will allow users to send and receive money from their friends following a new update. The company also plans to open Messenger up to third-party apps, making it a separate platform.

Facebook first launched Messenger as a standalone app back in 2011. But last summer the company announced it would be shifting mobile messages out of the main Facebook app entirely — a move that angered many users at the time. Since then, Facebook has been steadily beefing up Messenger’s feature set, most recently with the addition of mobile payments.

The new feature lets users send and receive money at no cost — exactly like with Venmo or Paypal. Except it’s way easier, because just about EVERYONE already has Facebook. Users just hit a small “$” icon that now appears in Messenger and type in the amount they want to transfer. Facebook says the money is sent right away, although it may take one to three days to show up in your bank.

The company, understandably, put a lot of emphasis on the security it built into this system. “We use secure systems that encrypt the connection between you and Facebook as well as your card information when you ask us to store it for you.” Users can add a PIN code or Touch ID for an extra layer of protection. “These payment systems are kept in a secured environment that is separate from other parts of the Facebook network and that receive additional monitoring and control. A team of anti-fraud specialists monitor for suspicious purchase activity to help keep accounts safe.

The service will be coming to iOS, Android, and desktop in the US over the coming months, and it will be one of many to come. Facebook plans to announce that it’s opening up Messenger to third-party apps during its upcoming F8 Developer Conference in San Francisco next week.

The move is said to be inspired by Line and WeChat

 It’s not yet clear who the early partners are or what the integration will look like, but Facebook will likely expand the capability to more developers following the initial rollout. Facebook has previously announced major new features at its F8 Developer Conference and typically offers guidance, in the form of workshops and talks on the new features to developers during the event.

This move will likely make Messenger a separate platform, rather than a supplement to Facebook’s main’s service. The company’s motives for doing this are unclear but the success of apps like WeChat and Line in Asia, which also support third-party apps and services, has demonstrated the potential of such a platform.

Taking those apps as our cue, here are some of the crazy things Facebook Messenger’s 500 million users might well be able to do soon:

  • Book a hotel:  The Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore lets travelers book their rooms and dining arrangements with WeChat messages.
  • Control your hotel room: At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, WeChat demonstrated a “smart room of the future” that would let hotel guests set room temperature, turn off the lights, and close the blinds all within the chat app.
  • Pay your phone bill: WeChat has partnered up with Digi Telecommunications in Malaysia to let customers pay their bills from right within the chat app.
  • Buy movie tickets: WeChat builds movie ticket buying right to the app, down to selecting seats.
  • Interact with museum exhibits: The Dinos Alive dinosaur theme park in South Africa has an official WeChat account to let users learn more about the great lizards.
  • Shop for sales: Popular Asian online retailers like Zalora let users shop the sales directly within the app.
  • Send Snapchat-style short videos: Line’s Snapmovie app lets users record and edit short movies and share them with their friends.

And get ready for your favorite brands and media outlets to jump on board with sponsored channels that feed you news via Facebook message, as happens with Snapchat.

Otherwise, though, Facebook’s endgame is to make sure users spend as much time in the app as possible. The key to that is to let developers build all kinds of weird and cool stuff into the app.

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