How Facebook plans to eat the internet

You can transfer money, trade stocks and hail a ride, all without leaving Facebook's Messenger app, but the world may not be ready for a one-stop internet.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 08 Jun 2016

There was a time when serious business like trading shares involved a trip to your stock broker’s offices in the City. The telephone changed that, but became archaic with the rise of the internet. Now, desktop websites are under siege from the smart phone app. Where will this trend towards the instant and the easy end?

A hint may be found in investment platform AJ Bell’s recent announcement that it’s planning to roll out a stock trading service on Facebook’s Messenger app. Soon, it will be commonplace for people to buy and sell shares as well as transfer money, hail an Uber, book a table and complain about your dodgy train service (these are all currently possible), all from the comfort of one app.

It’s part of Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to open up Messenger to third party developers. The ultimate goal? Nothing less than for Facebook to eat the internet from the inside out. The battle is with Google – and to an extent Apple, through its App Store – to be the starting point for people looking for information and services.

While Google is all about helping you navigate the vastness of the web, Facebook offers a curated alternative. Why search yourself when you can outsource it to your friends? Why use fifteen apps when one will suffice?

It’s clearly far too early to say who will win. There are signs that mobile users are spending more and more time on Facebook, but it’s still very small compared to the amount of time people spend on their phones in general. At present, most people still prefer to use a combination of smart phone apps and Google search to navigate the 21st century net.

What might tip the balance in favour of the one-stop-shop internet is AI. If Facebook’s (or indeed, Google’s, Apple’s, Amazon’s or indeed Microsoft's) bots can find what you want faster and more effectively than you can – or indeed before you even know you want it – it could be a game changer. But even then, some people will surely choose independence over convenience. Fundamentally, we like choice and we like browsing.

The result? Facebook will no doubt eat more of the internet before it’s had its fill, but it may discover the whole thing is somewhat more than it can chew. 

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