Canada to test Face­book’s new chat fea­ture

Toronto Star - - BUSINESS - RAJU MUDHAR

Cana­di­ans will be among the first in the world to try Face­book’s lat­est fea­ture, as the so­cial me­dia gi­ant de­buts Rooms on its Mes­sen­ger plat­form.

Launch­ing on Thurs­day in Aus­tralia and Canada, Mes­sen­ger Rooms will al­low users to cre­ate spa­ces to chat about a topic im­por­tant to them.

Sim­i­lar to Mes­sen­ger’s Group chat func­tion, these can be the­matic, event or topic based.

It can also be pri­vate or pub­lic, but will be capped at 250 par­tic­i­pants at this point.

It’s an “ev­ery­thing old is new again” type of move, as it’s a bit of throw­back to the chat rooms that were one of the first in­car­na­tions of on­line com­mu­nity on the web.

Rather than a static mes­sage board, though, this has the live­li­ness of on­line chat.

“Be­fore, in or­der to get into a group (chat), you needed to add or in­vite them — that’s how the group grows,” said Stan Chudlovsky, head of prod­uct, Face­book Mes­sen­ger.

“We’ve been talk­ing to our users, and the feed­back that was con­stant was why can’t we have the­matic groups that can just be found?”

As an ex­am­ple, Chudlovsky points to a Room set up when there’s a hockey game on.

“Peo­ple want to talk about that, and they all want to get to­gether. They don’t mind hav­ing a bunch of peo­ple in there.”

Rooms users will be able to pub­licly share links to the topic-based ar­eas, and the ad­min­is­tra­tors will have tools to re­voke ac­cess if some users choose to be dis­rup­tive or abu­sive. As well, pri­vate Rooms can be made so they won’t be dis­cov­er­able.

It’s an in­ter­est­ing move, as the com­pany launched a stand-alone app called Rooms in 2014, but it didn’t re­ally gain a lot of trac­tion — an is­sue with many of the com­pany’s stand­alone apps — so the com­pany even­tu­ally shut­tered it in 2015.

Chudlovsky says Rooms will be bet­ter be­cause more than one bil­lion peo­ple are al­ready us­ing Mes­sen­ger. With a 250-per­son limit, the com­pany ex­pects there will of­ten be sev­eral rooms based around pop­u­lar events, such as live sport­ing events.

If noth­ing else, it is an on-trend tech­nol­ogy move.

Two years ago apps were hot, but now many tech com­pa­nies are build­ing more func­tion­al­ity into their mes­sag­ing ser­vices. Many are tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from WeChat and its com­peti­tors in Asia, where mes­sag­ing plat­forms con­tain many tools and op­tions for con­sumers to do busi­ness and com­mu­ni­cate with com­pa­nies.

In ad­di­tion to in­creased func­tion­al­ity, Face­book is also look­ing at ways to mon­e­tize Mes­sen­ger, although Chudlovsky says there are no plans to try to make money off the Rooms fea­ture at this time.

But start­ing this week, the com­pany will be bring­ing new ads to its News­feed, which will then open up in Mes­sen­ger and use chat­bots to con­verse with users.

Chat­bots are au­to­mated ser­vices that con­verse with cus­tomers over mes­sag­ing plat­forms and can help with queries and po­ten­tially sell con­sumers goods and ser­vices.

“We be­lieve that the com­bi­na­tion of driv­ing peo­ple from News Feed into a Mes­sen­ger ex­pe­ri­ence and hav­ing an ad­di­tional op­por­tu­nity to re-en­gage with spon­sored mes­sages is a game changer,” said David Marcus, vice-pres­i­dent and head of Face­book Mes­sen­ger to USA To­day.

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