Is Facebook Attempting to Become the New Yellow Pages?

(Long Island, NY) As if Facebook wasn’t already ubiquitous enough already – as of June 2017, the service boasts of two billion monthly active users – CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that the social media giant’s Messenger app will be receiving an upgrade that will allow users to fill the gap that they used to rely on the good, old-fashioned Yellowpages for.


Known as the “Discover” tab, the app will zero in on a booming trend in the way that consumers interact with businesses, allegedly making it easier for them to engage with new and favorite brands via so-called “chatbots,” which are computer programs which conduct conversations and are designed to convincingly simulate how a human would behave as a conversational partner.


Chatbots are typically used in dialog systems for various practical purposes, including customer service or information acquisition. Some chatbots use sophisticated natural language processing systems, but many simpler systems scan for keywords within the user’s input, then pull a reply with the most matching keywords, or the most similar wording pattern, from a database. As for Facebook, there are currently more than 20 million businesses on the platform actively responding to the social media site’s user messages utilizing approximately 100,000 chatbots; this number is already expected to grow quickly in the future.


In addition, if a user is looking to connect directly with an actual friend or acquaintance and not merely an automated response program, Facebook said that in the future consumers will no longer need a contact number to reach brands or people, as Facebook Messenger will act like a virtual Yellowpages and allow people to search for contacts using the app, according to David Marcus, head of messenger at Facebook.


“Facebook Messenger will act like a Yellowpages,” he said. “You’ll be able to search for people in Messenger and you won’t need a phone number. People will be able to contact businesses or friends straight through the platform.”


The changes to Facebook were made in large part to satisfy consumer demand, according to Marcus. More and more people use Facebook Messenger, be it through the website or the mobile app, and with that constant brand presence in their lives it’s only natural that users would want Facebook to continue to conform to their lifestyles and needs even further. Currently 1.2 billion people use Messenger, and this massive user base gives the service an edge that similar competitors currently are unable to touch.


However, Facebook’s stated claim to “become the new Yellowpages” nonetheless rings hollow, as name recognition alone will keep the legitimate Yellowpages relevant for quite some time; despite the large amount of people who use Facebook messenger, there’s an even larger segment of the population that doesn’t, and they usually find it easier to simply look up their favorite Yellowpages website or app to find the goods and services that they need at any given time.


As time goes on and Facebook Messenger continues to evolve and offer more services, their stated goal of becoming something akin to the Yellowpages may indeed come to pass; however, they are encountering numerous bumps in the road currently that may get in the way. First of all, while there are a growing number of chatbots on the platform already, users have had a tough time finding them or knowing how to interact with them, according to reports. Apparently there’s a lot of confusion out there regarding chatbots, and it doesn’t help that the tech is still in its early stages, leading to very limited usability and a general lack of reliability.


And then there’s the fact that there’s a large amount of the population that’s already more than a little weary of dealing with automated telephone menus, and long for interaction with real, flesh-and-blood humans. Add to that frustration an automated chatbot program that may not yet be perfected – and, as a result, may not be able to adequately respond to a particular query, leading to yet more frustration – and you will find a number of users who will simply fall back on the reliable and simple to use Yellowpages for the foreseeable future; after all, both services are accessible through the same smart phone, so switching from one to the other isn’t inconvenient at all.


Facebook is a huge part of many people’s lives, but despite their efforts to make it an all-encompassing part, it’s clearly apparent that the platform simply isn’t capable of doing everything and anything their users may need; there are many other avenues through which people can obtain the information they want, and inevitably people will follow the part of least resistance to acquire it.