Facebook is now aiming to add greater force in messaging, commerce, payments and just about everything else you do online. The company’s ambitions harken to how WeChat has become the centrepiece of digital life in China, where people use it to order movie tickets, subway passes, food delivery and rides.
If Facebook succeeds in turning its own messaging services into a platform for everything, it could ultimately threaten established services such as Snapchat, Yelp, Venmo, eBay and even Apple and Amazon. “It’s clear that Facebook does have very broad ambitions here,” said Bob O’Donnell, president and chief analyst at Technalysis Research. “Their goal is to be the WeChat of everywhere but China.”
But Facebook faces numerous hurdles. A key one is restoring user trust, following a string of privacy failures that include the sharing of personal information from as many as 87 million users with a consulting firm affiliated with Donald Trump’s campaign. And any change may cause users to rethink their relationship with Facebook.
“Facebook has a lot of momentum but it’s not completely invincible,” said Roger Kay, an analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates. “People came to Facebook for a particular thing. Offer them a different thing, and they’re likely to re-evaluate whether they want to be there at all.” After all, Friendster and Myspace came and went as Facebook grew. Yahoo and AltaVista moved over for Google.
After building an advertising-supported service that depends on vacuuming up data on your hobbies, interests and political views, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced last week that Facebook will now emphasise ways for small groups to communicate in a truly private fashion.
This involves scrambling all messages in WhatsApp, Instagram Direct and Messenger so that even Facebook itself can’t read them. Facebook will also let messages automatically disappear after a set amount of time, something rival Snapchat already does.