Facebook brings new powers to Messenger

Ditty, JibJab among Los Angeles County start-ups launching on Facebook's revamped Messenger app

Facebook, intent on taking up even more of its users’ time, unveiled a series of new features Wednesday for its chat app Messenger.

In addition to simple texting, calling and money transfers, Messenger can now turn text into songs, make it easier to find and share animated images, and provide new tools to jazz up photos, video and text. And Messenger users will soon be able to place and track online retail orders -- another reason for people to shift from email to Facebook, the company hopes.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg announced the new features at the annual F8 developers’ conference, where computer programmers learn how to integrate their own products with Facebook.

“This is a really exciting, big new area and opportunity,” Zuckerberg said.

Initial partners for the online-ordering tool are shopping websites Everlane and Zulily. When consumers complete a purchase on their websites, they’ll be able to have all correspondence about the order sent to Messenger instead of email. David Marcus, Facebook’s vice president of messaging products, called it the first step toward “reinventing” how people and businesses interact.

Marcus said 40 content-based apps are expected to connect to Messenger in the coming days, including Bitmoji, Dubsmash, Stacheify, JibJab and Giphy that help users  find or edit photos and videos.

“It just makes for so much fun and engaging conversation,” Marcus said of the batch.

One of the apps available at launch comes from Calabasas music-technology start-up Zya Music. Called Ditty,  the app lets users type up to a 70-character message, which is then sung by a computer-generated voice to the tune of a user-selected song while the lyrics appear in an animated video.

Zya decided to start making Ditty last summer with the idea of letting more people experience “the thrill of creating music,” said Zya product evangelist Dylan Stevenson. It then worked closely with Facebook after learning about Messenger Platform.

“It’s about reaching the masses,” Stevenson said.

Nothing in the deal with Facebook precludes Zya from working with other messaging apps, and the company doesn't share revenue with Facebook.

Ditty launched in the Apple and Google Play app stores Wednesday with 10 free songs, including some nursery rhymes, and 16 tunes that costs 99 cents apiece. The paid choices include pop hits “Counting Stars" and “Chandelier” and classics like “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun."

More than 600 million people use Messenger each month, or about double the monthly figure for Facebook-owned Instagram, according to the company.

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