Facebook Messenger App Ups Business Ante with Translation Tools

New translation, AR features pivot Facebook Messenger app toward commerce.

Paul Heltzel

May 7, 2018

4 Min Read
Facebook Messenger Translation
Source: Facebook

Businesses are increasingly looking to catch customers where they’re spending much of their time--texting with friends and relatives--and appeal to potential Generation Y and Z customers who eschew email. At last week’s F8 developers conference, the company announced a new translation tool that works within the Facebook Messenger app, targeted at removing barriers to these customers and commerce. Many of the announcements made during the conference alluded to privacy concerns and what Facebook is doing to alleviate them. 

When it comes to the Facebook Messenger App, the company is focusing on improving communication. “Now, when people connected through Marketplace receive a message in a language that is different from their default language in Messenger, [Facebook’s AI assistant] M will ask them if they want to translate the message,” said David Marcus, vice president of messaging products, in a release. (See Marcus' keynote here.)

The real-time translation currently supports Spanish and English for conversations between buyers and sellers in Facebook Marketplace. The company said in coming weeks it plans to expand the Spanish translation service to anyone using the Facebook Messenger app.

“As we continue to iterate and improve upon the translation experience in Messenger we will launch this functionality in additional languages and countries,” Marcus said. Messenger currently has more than 1 billion monthly users. Facebook also owns Whatsapp, with more than a billion users.

If you receive a message through Marketplace and it’s not your native language, Facebook will offer to translate it. The company says 8 billion messages per month are traded between people and businesses, four times the number sent last year.

The move comes as other tech firms, including Apple, try to expand the use of messaging for commerce. Apple announced its Business Chat last year as a way to interact--and conduct transactions--with customers without leaving the iMessage app. Service platforms are integrated into the tool--including LivePerson, Salesforce, Nuance, Genesys, InTheChat and Zendesk--and it launched with support for retailers including Home Depot, Lowe's, Newegg and 1-800-Flowers.

Facebook Messenger app bots were introduced in 2016, and Marcus said at the conference that there are now 300,000 bots active monthly, used for customer service as well as product recommendations and sales.

Tech firms would like to take a page from WeChat in China, where nearly 1 billion users use text daily for communication and commerce: “Used an average of 66 minutes a day for communication, payment, media consumption, online shopping, ride hailing, and more,” according to a recent Gartner report, “the all-in-one lifestyle app is at near 100 percent adoption for Index brands across the beauty, CPG, and luxury sectors.”

At the conference, Marcus also announced the incorporation of augmented reality (AR) into Messenger. ASUS, Kia, Nike and Sephora have signed up to show their products overlaid over live images captured with the phone’s camera, as part of the offering from bots run by those companies.

“At its simplest, this feature enables bots to send templates that can open the camera,” according to Facebook’s site. “When people open it, the camera contains filters and AR effects that are specific to your brand.” The AR feature is currently in a closed beta, with a waitlist for developers.

The new features come amid concerns over privacy on the social media platform, following the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg kicked off his F8 keynote by addressing privacy.

“The hardest decision I made this year wasn't to invest in safety and security,” Zuckerberg said. “I just went to people who were running those teams and asked them how much we could possibly invest productively, and then I transferred all those people to them. The hard part was figuring out how to move forward on everything else we need to do, too.”

Zuckerberg announced a new “Clear History” feature at the conference, which would delete a user’s browsing history, as well as show--and allow users to clear--information on which apps and websites were collecting data.

“One thing I learned from my experience testifying in Congress is that I didn't have clear enough answers to some of the questions about data,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post. “We're working to make sure these controls are clear, and we will have more to come soon.”

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Paul Heltzel


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