The app also will be opened up for businesses to communicate with customers, who will be able to track packages, make reservations and do other things, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said.

(Bloomberg)—Facebook Inc. is opening up its Messenger chat application, letting developers create software for people to add photos, videos and other enhancements to their online conversations.

The app, which has 600 million users, will also be opened up for businesses to communicate with customers, who will be able to track packages, make reservations and do other things, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, said Wednesday at the company’s F8 conference in San Francisco.

The move opens up Messenger to be a customer service tool that retailers can leverage, says Patrick Salyer, CEO of Gigya Inc., whose technology lets consumers sign into e-retailer sites using their established logins with such sites as Twitter, Facebook and Google Inc.’s social network Google Plus.

“While thousands of brands are leveraging consumers’ Facebook identities—via social login—to drive better marketing performance and user experiences, Messenger for Business pushes identity firmly into customer service territory,” Salyer says. “By harnessing customers’ identities through strict user permissions, an e-commerce store can now not only provide updates on shipping or help customers change their orders, but now has the ability to understand who users are and what they want. That could come in the form of upsells, discounts or special offers if users provide access to their social graph.”

Zuckerberg is using F8 to strengthen ties to developers whose tools are crucial to helping Facebook woo users who socialize over mobile phones. Facebook is seeking to build a wider user base to keep attracting advertisers and fend off challenges from Twitter Inc. and Google Inc.

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“Facebook used to be this single blue app,” Zuckerberg said at the event. “Now it’s a family of apps.”

More than 2,000 app makers are attending the conference. Because of Facebook’s reach—the social network counts 1.4 billion users and more than 1 million advertisers—many developers use Facebook’s tools for building their apps in exchange for access to users and the social network’s set of advertisers.

Messenger app

More than 40 developers have already made apps for Facebook’s Messenger app, David Marcus, Facebook’s vice president of messaging products, said at the conference.

“We want to reinvent the way people and businesses are communicating,” Marcus said. “Lots of companies have tried to build chat services and a bunch of other things but they’re not that good.”

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Messaging is a key part of Zuckerberg’s strategy to attract and keep new users. Facebook paid $18 billion last year to buy WhatsApp, a popular mobile messenger app, to bolster its communication platform. Last week, Facebook added a payment service to Messenger.

Zendesk Inc., which makes cloud-based customer-support technology for businesses, said it’s forming a partnership with Facebook. Web retailers Zulily Inc., No. 55 in the Internet Retailer 2014 Top 500 Guide, and Everlane Inc., a luxury fashion retailer and brand that sells items with minimal markups, are the first to use Zendesk on top of Facebook Messenger to offer customer services, Zendesk said today.

News, devices

Facebook also said that it’s working with media companies to more closely integrate their articles and other content into its social network. For example, when someone comments on a story on the Huffington Post, that comment will also appear on the story on Facebook, Facebook said today. That will start to happen more broadly with other publishers, according to Deborah Liu, platform director at Facebook’s product group.

Additionally, Facebook said that Parse, the company’s platform for building mobile applications, will be enabled to work with other devices connected to the Internet. That will allow developers to create apps, for example, that will let users open their garage doors or control lights in their home.

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Facebook’s efforts to enhance features for users is part of its push to generate new advertising revenue. The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company has been expanding in mobile ads as it competes with big technology companies such as Google and Apple Inc. Facebook generated 69 percent of its ad revenue from mobile ads in the fourth quarter.

Facebook is turning LiveRail, its video-advertising exchange, into a tool to distribute different kinds of ads, building off of the information it has on individual identities across devices and applications, Liu said

“We want to help you build sustainable businesses for the long term,” Liu said.

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