Facebook Messenger is partnering with Uber, giving its users the ability to summon a car via the ride hailing app directly from a messaging thread.
The move is among Facebook's boldest efforts yet to turn Messenger into something more than a simple chat client. The company has already outfitted Messenger with customer service channels for retailers; it's developing partnerships that will enable airlines to broadcast travel alerts through it; and it's experimenting with M, an AI-reliant virtual assistant that may replace some traditional search functionality down the road.
"This is a perfect incarnation of the type of functionality that we want to bring into Messenger going forward," Facebook vice president of messaging products David Marcus told BuzzFeed News. "You should expect to see us gradually opening up the platform more and more, and adding more and more capabilities and functionality to Messenger."
Uber's decision to partner with Facebook lends further credence to the argument that messaging apps are becoming a critical channel for companies looking for new ways to reach and interact with their customers.
Ride hailing functionality already exists in WeChat in China, an app which may be building a roadmap for some US-based Messaging apps. In addition to summoning cabs, WeChat users can also play the lottery, invest in the stock market, pay bills at restaurants, and more.
Emil Michael, Uber senior vice president of business, told BuzzFeed News the company is looking to do more than just integrating its app in a messaging platform. "What we're trying to innovate on with Facebook is making transportation a social experience," he said. "So eventually you might see people's ETAs displayed to everyone in the chat group, so everyone knows when the others are getting to the restaurant. You may see chats with the driver embedded in a message, so that Messenger thread becomes an app experience.”
For Uber, this is its messaging app integration this week. On Monday, the company announced a similar deal with chat platform Hipchat. “We’ll do this in other apps too,” Michael explained. “But probably not with this level of sophistication and deep integration.”
In a blog post, Facebook said the service will start out testing with some users in U.S. locations with Uber operations. "More countries and other transportation partners will be available soon,” the post added.
Asked about the financial details of the partnership -- whether Uber would pay Facebook for referring new customers, for instance -- both companies declined comment. They would say only that some Messenger users will be given free rides to try out the service.
On data sharing between the two companies, Marcus said: "It's basically whatever is required to make the service work the way it should work."
A person with knowledge of the situation said Lyft will roll out a similar integration at the start of the new year.
This story was updated to include new information about an impending Lyft partnership with Facebook.