by Biz Carson
Uber wants to be everywhere. Not just physically in every city, but also in your digital life — and especially where you’re making plans.
Now, Uber has come to Facebook Messenger.
This isn’t just a link encouraging Facebook users to grab a ride to their next event, like you’ll see in Google Maps, but a way to call an Uber ride without even opening the app.
“This is where 700 million people around the world are coordinating plans with their loved ones or meeting friends for dinner or drinks on the weekend. And all those conversations are happening in Messenger,” said Rahul Bijor, Uber’s head of API and strategic partnerships, at a demonstration at its headquarters.
“We want Uber to play a part in bringing those people together in the real world.”
Why Uber wants to be in your messages
For Facebook, group messaging is on the rise, said Seth Rosenberg, a product manager for Messenger. Most people are already using Facebook Messenger to organize a happy hour or go out to the movies, but once the plans are set, the experience within Messenger stops.
“Making that plan is really just the first step, and we want to help people actually follow through with that plan and meet up with their friends in real life,” Rosenberg said.
While Facebook users can choose from a range of GIFs or sticker packs to use in their messages, the messaging experience isn’t very useful beyond that. To call an Uber or book a flight, people have to close out of Messenger and open a new app separately. If an Uber rider wanted to share their ETA with friends, it would be sent via text from the Uber app and not put in the group chat to let friends know you’re on your way.
To solve that problem, Uber and Facebook spent three months working together to build it into Messenger natively. If you’re making brunch plans, you can tap on the address and hit “request a ride.” It pulls up what looks like the Uber app, but within Messenger. If you don’t have an Uber account, you can make one without leaving Facebook.
Enter your destination, and your Messenger conversation will update with gray text that says you have requested a ride. No more “I’m on my way” messages from friends, only to have them jump in the shower and arrive thirty minutes late, Rosenberg adds.
“It’s like the only honest way to tell your friends you’re on your way. The only way to do it is if you request a ride,” Rosenberg said.
Once a ride is requested, Uber sends the ride details to the passenger through Messenger as well. Receipts will be sent both to emails and in the chat history. And for now, Uber is testing leaving that chat communication as an open window for support, so you can chat with Uber if you left something in the car, for example.
Not a total (or only) Uber experience
Using Uber within Facebook does have some limitations. UberPool, for example, now accounts for more than 50 percent of rides in San Francisco, but doesn’t work in Messenger. UberEATS, its food delivery service, isn’t compatible either.
As for UberKittens, its famous promotion that brings kittens to your door, that’s not ruled out as working within the app one day, but for this release, Uber’s marketing stunts will be left out.
Facebook also had to prioritize privacy over easy communication.
While it’s advertised as being an easy way to tell your friends you’re on your way, you still have to send them your ETA to let them know how long it will take you now that you’ve ordered the Uber. Rosenberg said Facebook wanted to keep it only to that one line of text to protect people’s privacy — you might not want to let your work colleagues know where your ride originated if you were working from home.
While it’s a first-of-its-kind partnership for Uber, building the transportation framework within Messenger sets up Facebook to make more of these partnerships. The company has already announced a deal with KLM Airlines to message itineraries to its passengers. Uber’s competitor Lyft is also likely to join in the fray, according to a source close to the plans.
To entice Facebook users, Uber is offering a free ride, up to $20, the first time you book with Messenger.
It’s all part of Facebook’s larger version to turn Messenger into a place that’s useful to connect with your friends and with businessess. Taking those friendships from online into real life is just a first steps.