Facebook Messenger puts the final nail in Path's coffin
Facebook Messenger has been updated to make it easier for people to find new software, share content from inside those apps, and have conversations with businesses. That last feature might be considered the final nail in Path’s coffin.
You remember Path. It started as a social network where you stayed in touch with your closest friends, then became a mysterious life-logging service before eventually pivoting with the goal of making it easy for users to communicate (via a Path-run call center) with restaurants, theaters, and other businesses.
Path Talk, as that last service is called, is the most-praised of Path’s various products. (By the press, at least. I won't speak for the people working in a call center so Path Talk’s users don’t have to book their own reservations or ask questions themselves.) But that might not matter if more businesses start using the new tools Facebook has added to Messenger.
Businesses will have a lot of control over how they work with Messenger. Everlane, the launch partner Facebook mentions in its announcement of Messenger’s new features, is going to allow its customers to have one-on-one conversations with sales representatives. Other companies might take advantage of some of the other features Facebook describes:
Once there, people will be able to receive relevant messages from the business including order confirmations and shipping status updates, and will be able to take basic actions like modifying, tracking or returning an order. People will also have the option to ask a business questions, make requests and get quick responses. This whole set of interactions and features are unified in a single, ongoing thread between the person and the business.
Messenger won’t be as convenient as Path Talk, at least not to start. Businesses have to decide how they want to use the new communication platform; many businesses have probably interacted with Path Talk without even knowing it. (Consumers can message some businesses directly through Path Talk, but I suspect most conversations are with Path’s own employees.)
But Messenger has something Path Talk can’t compete with: a billion monthly users and global brand awareness. Making use of Path Talk requires people to first hear about the app, install it, and remember where they put it if they buried it in one of their smartphone's folders. Using Messenger requires people to use an app they’ve probably already downloaded and are likely to use every day.
And businesses already know about Facebook. I’m sure some have heard of Path, but many, especially in more rural areas, haven’t. That isn’t too much of a problem because of the way Path Talk works, but there’s nothing stopping companies from offering a more personal experience through Messenger when they realize people want to chat directly with them via instant messaging tools.
Today's announcement offers some evidence to my thesis. I forgot Path Talk existed until Facebook announced the changes to Messenger at its annual F8 developer conference. And when I first heard of the service, I assumed it wouldn’t work in upstate New York, where you can enter a restaurant without seeing a single Zagat, Yelp, or TripAdvisor sticker. Some businesses don’t even bother to add a phone number on Google Maps. Much of the world is similar.
Yet when I used Path Talk for the first time I was able to have a question answered without delay even though most of the places in my area have probably never heard of Path. It’s a neat trick, and one I might take advantage of in the future — if I can remember I have Path Talk installed. And again, that will likely change once some of these businesses start using Messenger's new features to chat with people.
Facebook doesn’t often get to enter an established market and dominate it. The company had to buy success in the photo-sharing category, and its efforts to copy many other services have often failed. (See Snapchat.) It’s just another example of a principle Facebook has demonstrated time and again: the best product doesn't always win. The product that reaches the most people does. And unfortunately for Path, Facebook's products reach far more users.
[illustration by Hallie Bateman]