Photo Illustration by Vjeran Pavic
Mark Zuckerberg must be looking to Asia for inspiration for the kind of platform Facebook Messenger could become.
Here’s one idea: An integration with popular car-hailing service Uber that would be beneficial to both companies and, presumably, their users.
Such a deal could be a first step in Facebook’s goal of turning the Messenger app into more than a communications tool, but also an e-commerce platform modeled in part after Asian competitors WeChat and Line.
That’s why Zuckerberg has held preliminary talks with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick about potentially embedding the service into the Facebook Messenger app, according to sources who have been briefed on the discussions.
“It’s very conceptual, and nowhere near execution,” said one person with knowledge of the situation. “But it’s a direction that Messenger has to go in.”
Facebook and Uber representatives declined to comment.
So, how does Uber fit in? In its most popular markets, customers use it weekly or even daily. Given that, the idea is that integrating a service with frequent usage will help propel Messenger’s use itself. In China, for example, users of WeChat can hail a taxi through the app via an integration with a taxi-ordering service called Didi Dache.
A similar tie-up between Facebook and Uber could make sense for both sides. Facebook would add a new service that could also potentially help it get more customer payment information on file to build a base of payment credentials for future e-commerce initiatives or money-transfer products. Facebook announced last week that it was testing a “buy” button that would allow users to buy products through an ad or company post.
At the same time, a Facebook partnership would give Uber access to millions of potential new customers — Zuckerberg said in April that Messenger had 200 million monthly users. And it wouldn’t be the first integration of its kind for Uber. In May, the company announced a partnership with Google Maps. Still, it’s not clear what it would take to encourage new customers to continue to order through Messenger instead of the Uber app itself.
Facebook recently hired PayPal President David Marcus to run its Messenger service and help decide how it should eventually make money from the app. On yesterday’s earnings call, Zuckerberg cautioned that Facebook will take its time and not pursue a “cheap and easy approach” to generating revenue from Messenger.