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Main article: Uber ads

All topics: 5

Facebook Messenger ditches Discover, downplaying chat bots

22:26 | 28 February

Chat bots were central to Facebook Messenger’s strategy three years ago. Now they’re being hidden from view in the app along with games and businesses. Facebook Messenger is removing the Discover tab this week as it focuses on speed and simplicity instead of broad utility like China’s WeChat.

The changes are part of a larger Messenger redesign that reorients the People tab around Stories as Facebook continues to try to dominate the ephemeral social media format it copied from Snapchat. The People tab now defaults to a full-screen sub-tab of friends’ Stories, and requires a tap over to the Active sub tab to see which friends are online now.

The changes could push users to spend more time visually communicating with friends and consuming content than exploring chat bots for shopping, connecting with businesses, and playing games. That in turn could help Facebook earn more money from Messenger since it’s now showing Stories ads.

TechCrunch was tipped off to the redesign by social media director Jeff Higgins who provided us with extensive screenshots of the update. These show the absence of Discover tab, the switch to just Chat and People tabs, and the People sub-tabs for Stories and Active. We poked around some more and noticed the Instant Games and Transportation options missing from the chat composer’s utility tray. That formerly offered quick Uber and Lyft hailing. Messenger’s M Suggestions also no longer recommend the Transportation feature.

When we asked Messenger about the changes, a spokesperson confirmed that this redesign will start rolling out in the next week, removing Discover and splitting the People tab. They noted that Facebook had announced last August that it planned to eventually axe Discover, and that the added emphasis on Stories was motivated by users’ affinity for the ephemeral social media format. They also told us that Transportation was removed in late 2017, and Instant Games’ removal from the composer is part of the migration to Facebook Gaming announced last July.

A look at the old Messenger Discover tab that’s being removed

Chat bots, businesses, and games are being hidden, but not completely banished from Messenger. They’ll still be accessible if users purposefully seek them through the Messenger search bar, Pages and ads on Facebook, buttons to start conversations on businesses’ websites, and m.me URL that create QR codes which open to business accounts in Messenger. The spokesperson diplomatically claimed that businesses are still an important part of Messenger.

But without promotion via Discover, businesses will have to rely on their owned or paid marketing channels to gain traction for their chat bots. That could discourage them from building on the Messenger platform.

The Rise And Fall Of Facebook Chat Bots

The update feels like the end of a four-year era for Facebook. Back in 2016, it saw artificially intelligent chat bots as a way for businesses to scalably communicate with people, deliver customer service, and push ecommerce. But when it launched the chat bot platform at its F8 conference that year, it arrived half-baked.

The typing-based semantic user interfaces were confusing, the AI necessary to make chat bots seem human or at least reliably understand their human conversation partners hadn’t evolved yet, and several of the launch partner bots like Poncho The Weather Cat were laughably useless. The public soured on the idea of chat bots, and attempts to improve them felt insufficient.

Messenger launched Discover in 2017 in hopes that free promotion and visibility might convince developers to invest in building better chatbots. Yet by early 2018 even Facebook was backpedaling, shelving its plan to build out a full-service AI personal assistant called M that you could ask to do anything. Instead, it’d merely make AI suggestions of different Messenger features to use like Stickers or reminders based on what you typed. Then it announced last year that it would move Instant Games out of Messenger and into Facebook’s dedicated Gaming tab.

A laughably bad interaction with old Messenger chat bot Poncho The Weather Cat

Now with Discover disappearing, Messenger seems to be surrendering the fight to become a WeChat-style monolithic utility. In China, WeCat serves not just as a messaging app but a way to make payments, hail a taxi, book flights, top up your mobile data, get a loan, find housing, or shop at businesses via mini programs.

But while that centralized all-in-one style fit Chinese culture, Western markets have experienced more of an unbundling with different apps emerging to handle each of these use cases. Facebook’s constant privacy scandals and increasing anti-trust scrutiny also inhibited this approach with Messenger. Users and the US government weren’t ready to trust Facebook to handle so much of our daily lives. Facebook Messenger also has to jockey with competition like iMessage and Snapchat that could undercut it if it gets too bloated.

So now Messenger is going in the opposite direction. It’s becoming more WhatsApp-like — simple, speedy, and centered around peer-to-peer communication. Visual communication through Stories, with replies to them delivered as messages, feels like a natural extension of this focus while conveniently offering a path to monetization. If Messenger can be the best-in-class place to chat, unencumbered by promotion of chat bots and businesses, users might stay locked into the Facebook ecosystem.

 


0

Uber is entering the ads business

15:51 | 6 November

Uber will become an ad platform, selling space inside its Eats app to restaurants hoping to lure in more food delivery orders. A recent Uber job listing spotted by TechCrunch seeks an Uber Eats Ads Lead “to lead the team and efforts responsible for creating a new ads business that enables eaters to discover new foods and restaurants to grow their customer base.”

An Uber spokesperson confirmed the company would be entering the ads business, telling TechCrunch “We are exploring relevant ads in Eats.” Selling ads could help it improve margins on Eats, where it only takes 10.7% of gross bookings as adjusted net revenue since it pays out so much to restaurants and drivers.

The fresh opportunity in ads comes at a critical time when Uber is desperate to show its future potential in the face of a sagging share price that closed at $28.02 yesterday, down 40% from a high of $46.38 in June. Today, Uber’s post-IPO stock lock-up expires and early investors are able to sell their shares, putting newfound pressure on its stock.

TechCrunch was the first to discover a prototype of Eats ads in Decembe called Specials, where restaurants could get featured placement in the app in exchange for offering a discount. This demonstrated Uber’s ability to steer hungry users to order from particular restaurants.

I followed up with Uber’s senior director and head of Eats product Stephen Chau, who hinted at the company’s aspiration in the ads business. “There’s a bunch of different ways we can work with restaurants over time. If we have all the restaurants on the marketplace and we give them tools to help them grow, then this will be a very efficient marketplace. They’re going to be spending those ad dollars somewhere,” Chau told me. We’ve been checking on the company’s progress in ads ever since.

As we predicted, now instead of just a quid pro quo where Uber exchanges added visibility to restaurants willing to offer discounts that could keep users loyal to Uber Eats, it plans to formally sell ads.

“As this is a brand new space for Uber” the Toronto-based Eats Ads Lead “will be responsible for defining the vision for this new product area and determining where to start building.”

The job listing also notes whoever takes the role will “Help formulate our business, product and go-to-market strategy for ads” and “Creatively experiment and quickly iterate on early tests”. Signaling global ambitions for Eats ads, the Lead will “Customize and scale this offering across the world.”

The effort is separate from Uber’s own marketing efforts that see it spend over $1 billion per year to recruit riders, drivers, and Eats customers. Uber will start selling the ads, not just buying them.

The potential for Eats ads stems from Uber’s place as a destination for choosing what to eat, not just ordering it. Wherever there is discovery, there are opportunities for paid discovery. And as Uber focuses on cross-promoting Eats inside its main ride hailing app, it could suck in more users that are open to suggestions that restaurants pay to provide.

We don’t have details on exactly how Uber’s ads will look. However, you could imagine them appearing on the home page, the browse section, or even in search results for certain cuisines or restaurants. Restaurants hoping to boost orders could pay to appear to users who are hungry but don’t know what they want to eat, or to appear before competitors in the same food style.

Amazon successfully navigated a similar expansion from marketplace to ad platform. eMarketer expects Amazon’s US ads business will grow 33% this year to reach $9.85 billion, and claim 7.6% of the total US ad market which makes it the biggest search ad player behind Google.

Uber could use any revenue it can get. This quarter the company lost $1 billion, with $316 million of that loss coming from Eats. But Eats’ revenue grew 64% year-over-year, showing it’s increasingly popular, and could command enough user attention to make advertising lucrative.

Ads could also serve as a wedge for Uber to move deeper into business intelligence services for restaurants. It could apply its data on food delivery demand to help kitchens to optimize prices, allocate staff, and improve menus.

To save its share price, Uber’s best bet is to find new streams of cash it doesn’t have to share with drivers or restaurants. It may still be years until self-driving vehicles arrive to rescue Uber from its tremendous costs.

 


0

Makers or breakers?

20:54 | 26 November

 The weight of problems being demonstrably attached to heavily used tech services has acquired such a gravitational and political pull that it’s becoming harder and harder for these businesses to sidestep wider societal responsibilities. Read More

 


0

Crunch Report | Facebook Fixing Its Election Ads Problem

06:00 | 3 October

Today’s Stories 

  1. GM to introduce two new all-electric cars by 2019 in path to zero emissions
  2. Uber launching shopping mall lounges and pickup/dropoff points with Westfield
  3. Facebook will hire 1,000 and make ads visible to fight election interference

Credits

Written by: Tito Hamze, John Mannes
Hosted by: Tito Hamze
Filmed by: Tito Hamze
Edited by: Tito Hamze

Notes:

  • I don’t know what to wear on Crunch Report (It’s a hard decision and I suck at dressing myself). If you are a startup and want to me to wear something mail me an XL T-shirt and I’ll wear it in an episode. I’m not going to mention the company on the shirt in the episode but it will be there. No offensive stuff, it’s totally at my discretion if I wear it. Mail it to me. Thanks <3 Ok, bye.

TechCrunch C/O Tito Hamze
410 Townsend street
Suite 100
San Francisco Ca. 94107

 


0

Crunch Report | Benchmark vs Kalanick Goes Sour

06:00 | 19 August

Today’s Stories 

  1. Reddit rolls out its own video platform
  2. Immersv raises $10.5M to shake up mobile advertising with some VR flair
  3. Travis Kalanick strikes back against Benchmark lawsuit, calling it a ‘public and personal attack’

Credits

Written by: Tito Hamze, John Mannes
Hosted by: Tito Hamze
Filmed by: Patrick & MaryAnn Miller
Edited by: Gregory Manalo

Notes:

  • I don’t know what to wear on Crunch Report (It’s a hard decision and I suck at dressing myself). If you are a startup and want to me to wear something mail me an XL T-shirt and I’ll wear it in an episode. I’m not going to mention the company on the shirt in the episode but it will be there. No offensive stuff, it’s totally at my discretion if I wear it. Mail it to me. Thanks <3 Ok, bye.

TechCrunch C/O Tito Hamze
410 Townsend street
Suite 100
San Francisco Ca. 94107

 


0
All topics: 5

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