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Facebook Accelerates Messenger Platform as WhatsApp Testbed

The path to making money from mobile chat apps is taking many twists and turns. Last week, Facebook publicly previewed “M,” a kind of virtual assistant that lives on Facebook Messenger and tries to help people complete tasks like looking for gift ideas or quickly booking appointments.

Behind the scenes, Facebook has continued to talk to a wide range of businesses. The company, which hasn’t offered monetary incentives to potential partners, has told such companies that Messenger is a lower-friction way of communicating with customers and will win them new business in the long term. For some types of businesses, it has offered to build “custom integrations” within Messenger that could give customers the ability to quickly buy something or upgrade their subscription, for instance.

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One person who has been using the “beta,” or early version, of M say it bears resemblance to Operator, one of several standalone virtual assistant apps that have gotten venture funding this year. (Operator is also in a limited beta phase.) A Facebook spokesman says M doesn’t charge users or businesses for facilitating transactions between them.

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To make money from Messenger, Facebook is following a path similar to how it approached making money from its NewsFeed.