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Facebook Messenger could have a new group chat feature on the way.
Called Rooms, the potential new feature could give users the ability to create rooms “about a topic or event that you’re interested in.”
“Rooms are for public conversations about topics and interests. Each room has a link that can be shared so anyone on Messenger can join the conversation,” Messenger source code says.
If this is true, Messenger is a step closer to adopting features that have been critical to the rise of conversational commerce in Chinese rival WeChat. Created by TenCent in 2010, WeChat has 700 million users, many of whom chat in groups and routinely use QR scan codes to pay for purchases or access information.
“My biggest question is: How will Facebook support bots in group threads?” said Chris Messina, who provided the v87 source code to VentureBeat. “I don’t know if Rooms have anything to do with bots, but Groups seems very tied to desktop, and so Rooms would be a great new canvas to explore bots in group conversations where privacy expectations can be reset.”
Messina believes Rooms could compete with Twitter or Telegram channels.
The Rooms feature mentioned in the source code sounds a lot like a former app created by Facebook, also called Rooms. A product of the company’s now-defunct Creative Labs, Rooms was made for group chat with a moderator for each public forum or chatroom.
On Dec. 23, 2015, Facebook shuttered Rooms, shortly after the closure of Creative Lab.
A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on the possibility of a new Rooms feature, whether a new version of Rooms would adopt characteristics of the old Rooms, or when Messenger users can expect to chat with a bot in groups.
It’s easy to imagine Rooms becoming a subset of groups in which conversations between a small number of participants can take place, with a bot one day providing structure and information. Rooms could even take the form of a broad public forum with a moderator, like Reddit offers.
In an interview with VentureBeat last month, Messenger product manager Seth Rosenberg said the platform is considering the addition of group chat to the platform.
“A lot of the use cases we’ve seen now work pretty well directly with a bot,” Rosenberg continued. “But whether it’s like subscribing to news or getting customer service around your flight or putting filters on pictures, a lot of these experiences work…really well with the bot.” He added that “It’s something we’re looking at.”
Messenger has made a lot of strides in its evolution, especially when you consider everything it has done to evolve since the Messenger API opened in April.
– Payments inside bots were added to Messenger on Monday. Before the bot platform was announced, peer-to-peer payments were added to Messenger in April.
– Carousels, buttons, and a menu were also added this summer. New ways for developers to customize Messenger bots were added in the update earlier this week.
– Businesses using messenger may now carry out marketing and promotion inside Messenger. This was prohibited until the bot platform came out of beta last month.
Even with all those changes, Messenger still differs from other chat platforms in one regard: There isn’t an option for group chat with bots. Skype and Kik added chat with bots in groups earlier this year, and group chat has long been a staple at Slack and Telegram.
The inability for bots to work in group chat on Messenger is slowing down some bot-making startups.
Commerce platform Kip operates on Messenger, Slack, Telegram, and Kik. Customers make group purchases today with the Kip Slack bot, but the company is waiting for Messenger to add group chat so families, offices, and others can use its ecommerce bot to make group purchases.
Alex Beckman, CEO of live sports chat company GameOn, said his company is now working with Sports Illustrated on a series of bots across multiple chat channels.
GameOn said it saw higher bot adoption and interaction rates on platforms where bots can chat in groups. In the first hour of its Skype bot for the 2016 Olympic Games going live, 90 percent of adoption of the bot was among groups.
“We hope that the Facebook platform will open up the ability to have group conversations. It’s a really strong platform, and we love working in it…It’s just interesting to note that every other platform we’re working with has group behavior,” Beckman told VentureBeat.
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