Facebook Debuts New Faster, Lighter Messenger iOS App, Removes Chatbot Discovery Tab
Facebook deployed a new, slimmer version of its Messenger app on iOS that takes up a quarter of the space and runs twice as fast as its previous iteration. The update will roll out to all users over the course of the next several weeks, but should retain all of the main functions of the app.
The plan to redesign the back-end of Messenger, called Project Lightspeed, involved rewriting the entirety of the app’s code. By removing the redundancies that have cropped up since Messenger came out in 2011, users can open the app more quickly and have it take up less space on their smartphones. The revamp is limited to the iOS version of the app for now. To users, the most notable change may be the removal of the Discover tab in the design. The businesses and chatbots found there now have to be accessed manually. Facebook Stories are now much more prominent under the People tab. Facebook may bring back those features in the future, the company said.
“We reduced Messenger’s core code by 84% — going from more than 1.7 million lines of code to 360,000 — and we rebuilt our features to fit a new, simplified infrastructure. Fewer lines of code makes the app lighter and more responsive, and a streamlined code base means engineers can innovate more quickly,” Messenger vice president of engineering Raymond Endres said in a blog post. “LightSpeed not only makes the app faster, smaller and simpler for our users, it also lays the foundation to fulfill our vision for private messaging and interoperability across apps, allowing us to scale our messaging experience in the future,” Endres said.
As Endres points out in the blog, a smaller, streamlined Messenger may also make it easier for the company to manage issues like privacy at Facebook’s massive operating scale. And Facebook has a lot of ground to make up for when it comes to assuring public trust. Stories surfaced last year that the company had hired contractors to transcribe audio sent through its Messenger app that made many people nervous. Facebook’s case wasn’t helped by similar reports coming out about Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, and pretty much every other major voice assistant.
After some revision of their operations, Facebook and the voice assistant platforms hope to convince people they can be trusted. Regaining that trust will be crucial not only for Messenger but for the operating system, Facebook is rumored to be working on, including a purported voice assistant. That may be one reason why Facebook is turning to its Viewpoints app to pay people to record their voices to improve Facebook’s speech recognition engine.
However, the removal of the Discover Tab also undermines a key challenge for Facebook Messenger chatbot developers. There are hundreds of thousands of chatbots on Messenger and developers have complained that organic discovery is a big challenge — a sentiment familiar to voice app developers on Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. A VentureBeat article in 2016 suggested, “discovery” was slowing chatbot adoption in the Facebook ecosystem and the Discover Tab was launched a year later to tackle the issue. Two years later, this past August, Facebook said it would begin to phase out the Discover Tab.
The removal was not because Facebook solved the discovery problem. The official reason is that Facebook is streamlining the app. However, it was likely a result of low usage and different priorities for the company despite the ongoing discovery issue faced by developers. Facebook does offer some suggestions on “Discovery & Reengagement” and it will surprise no one that the first two suggestions involve ad units. “Ads that Click to Messenger” and “Sponsored Messages” that go directly to a user’s Messenger inbox are two options.
The article was updated at 7:00 am on March 3, 2020, to include commentary about chatbot discovery on Messenger.