Facebook’s Big New Plan: Fewer Passwords, More Robots

At the annual F8 developer conference today, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg laid out his vision for how the big blue social network plans to take over the world in the coming decade. There was a lot to his keynote speech, and there will be a lot more to the conference, but two big announcements, the Messenger Platform and the Account Kit, stood out as likely to have an immediate impact on consumers nation- and worldwide.

Messenger Platform
The idea here is that the best, most immediate, personalized customer service comes from… robots.

Facebook Messenger is already a way to chat with people, make calls, send money, and even share files, but its utility as a customer service tool and commerce platform is still more in the future tense than the present tense. That, however, will change shortly if Zuckerberg has anything to say about it.

The platform will allow businesses to build their own automated processes on top of Messenger to do, well, anything. Within reason. And if that should just happen to make nearly every app on your phone (including the actual “phone” part of your phone) other than Facebook-owned ones obsolete, well, Facebook would probably count that as a win.

The example Zuckerberg gave involved ordering flowers. In the video, the hand holding a phone used Messenger to interact with a 1-800 Flowers chatbot to have an ordinary-language conversation with it — “I want to order flowers” becoming, in a just a few steps, an order placed for delivery, without any pause manually to enter payment, recipient, or orderer information.

“Now, to order from 1-800 Flowers, you never have to dial 1-800 Flowers again,” Zuck quipped.

Facebook has clearly been moving slowly in this direction for quite some time. Since it already has a chat function and a payment processing function built in — and access to all of your and your contacts’ personal contact information, if you choose to let it — Messenger could soon be a one-stop shop for a whole lot of commerce.

It was just over a year ago that Facebook opened up Messenger for business use, instead of just person-to-person chats, for the purpose of customer service, and only a few weeks ago that Messenger started becoming a one-stop shop for air travel info.

Account Kit
You know how you can log into a bunch of sites, services, or apps by tying them to your Facebook account and password? Well, Facebook wants to go one step farther.

The Account Kit is kind of like a universal two-factor authorization without the first factor built in. Developers who use Account Kit for their apps will be able to have users log in with only an e-mail address or a phone number, no second field required.

After the user puts in that contact info, they receive a login key, in much the same way as you can now get a code over SMS to authenticate your login efforts on hundreds of sites and services.

“People hate passwords,” Facebook says, and really that’s kind of true. Remembering them, entering them correctly on tiny phone keyboards, or using password management services are all the little hated bugaboos of modern digital life.

Account Kit is meant to streamline the login / registration process for basically any app by simply tying it to that one unique piece of information. “The login flows for Account Kit combine account registration and account login. There is no need to check if an account exists already or to use a separate flow to register new users. After a successful login or registration, an authentication credential associated with the user will be made available,” the developer documentation says.

Here’s the other thing designed to make it attractive: it does not actually require the consumer have a Facebook account in order to use it, unlike the standard Facebook Login, which works by connecting apps to your Facebook profile.

That said, if the phone number and/or e-mail address you provide should happen to match one that does have a Facebook account, well, there’s a point of data matching for big blue to use.

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