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Facebook’s Messenger App Wants to Help You Strike Up a Conversation

October 18, 2016, 12:13 AM UTC
#CDUdigital Conference In Berlin
BERLIN, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 12: A visitor uses a mobile phone in front of the Facebook logo at the #CDUdigital conference on September 12, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. The world's largest social media network was launched by Mark Zuckerberg and his Harvard College roommates in 2004, and had its initial public offering in February 2012. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)
Photograph by Adam Berry — Getty Images

Robots are taking over everything—even conversations with friends.

Facebook is reportedly testing giving users of its Messenger app suggestions about what they should talk about, according to Chris Messina, a developer experience lead at Uber who noticed the feature on the iOS app on Sunday. Suggestions seem to draw on data users share on Facebook, such as where they recently vacationed.

The suggestions appear in a separate section in the Messenger app, and also note how recently each friend was online, according to a screenshot of the app published by Messina. Facebook is currently only running a limited test, according to tech news site TechCrunch.

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U.K.-based user Dan Simpson spotted the feature last month on a friend’s app, who got suggestions that included the last song Simpson had listened to. For another friend, Messenger suggested an event she plans to attend as a topic to discuss.

The feature could help users more easily strike up conversations with friends they haven’t talked to in a while or someone they’ve recently befriended. It could also be part of Facebook’s overarching ambition for its messaging app to replace its flagship social networking app. In June, Facebook redesigned Messenger to include new sections like birthday reminders followed by this latest tweak which can act as an easy way to catch up on the recent activities of friends (listened to a song, took a trip, etc.), decreasing the need to check the main Facebook app.

It’s no surprise that Messenger, which now has one billion monthly active users, is nudging users into more chatter. Amid increasing competition from ephemeral messaging app Snapchat, Facebook has been experimenting with a variety of features to keep its users spending time on its Messenger app. And with its push into more commerce on Messenger by letting businesses chat with customers via its app and a new partnership with e-commerce software company Shopify, keeping users in its app is crucial to provide as many potential customers to businesses as possible.

A Facebook spokeswoman declined to comment on the feature.