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Facebook's David Marcus: The Asian Paradigm Has Shown Messaging Is the Next Frontier

Facebook's head of Messenger, David Marcus, says services like WeChat are paving the way.

Asa Mathat

When it comes to messaging, there’s something brewing in Asia. And Facebook wants in on it.

“Messaging is really, truly the next frontier,” said Facebook’s head of messaging products, David Marcus, who appeared onstage Thursday at the Code/Mobile conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, Calif. “The Asian paradigm has shown there’s a there there.”

Marcus was referring to the massive popularity and influence of messaging apps like WeChat in China, KakaoTalk in Korea and Line in Japan. The three have helped define the mobile Internet in their respective countries, with WeChat in particular serving as a hub for other companies and services to reach Chinese consumers.

Taking its cues from those powerhouses, Facebook is hoping to transform its own Messenger service from a basic instant-messaging tool into a full-fledged business. It’s not alone — other Western messaging apps are doing the same thing.

Messenger’s transition has been in the works for over a year, ever since Facebook first split its messaging feature out of the core Facebook app. Users weren’t happy, but the move allowed Marcus to build new features for Messenger more quickly, and already the company has added a foundation for revenue: Peer-to-peer payments and direct messaging with businesses.

Facebook wants to use chat to change the nature of mobile shopping, Marcus explained Thursday.

“Today, if you buy something online from your mobile phone, you get one email when you create your store account, one email when the item ships, another 50 emails when they want you to give feedback,” Marcus said. He argued that a continuous chat thread between business and customer would make more sense. Users would be able to see everything in one place: Their order, their receipt, shipping confirmation, a map showing delivery status.

Messenger opened to outside developers back in March, meaning other businesses can build their products specifically for Messenger and its 700 million monthly active users. It looks as though Facebook is building Messenger in the image of WeChat, where users can do everything from book a ride to pay their credit card bill. But while WeChat is serving as inspiration, Marcus cautioned that Messenger can’t necessarily take the same path.

“The big difference is that all these services didn’t exist [in China] before WeChat enabled it,” Marcus said. “We need to approach it differently.”

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