There are few trends that catch Amazon off guard. This is the company that applied for drone clearance from the FAA before consumers had settled on unmanned aerial deliveries as something they actually wanted. This is a CEO who is landing remotely controlled space-capable rockets onto similarly unmanned floating barges in the middle of oceans.
So, is it really out of the question to assume that Amazon isn't going to let Facebook steal the show with chatbots and contextual commerce?
For anyone predisposed to say that it's not, look no further than changes Amazon has made to Twitch, the video gaming-themed uploading community and loose social network platform. Famous for livestreaming digital gaming competitions and reruns of "The Joy of Painting" with Bob Ross, Twitch is far too niche to ever compete with the international scope of Facebook, but that hasn't stopped Amazon from beefing up Twitch's social capabilities. Over the course of a few weeks, Twitch has added everything from user-to-user chat functionality, a dedicated timeline-esque feed for users who broadcast footage of themselves playing and a friends list feature to help viewers track likeminded watchers online.
Big deal, the skeptic says. If Amazon has plans to beef up Twitch's messaging capabilities to maybe one day flex muscles of the chatbot and contextual commerce variety, it can't hope to run with Facebook's ubiquity with consumers of all stripes.
However, in the game of determining when digital consumers are most open to pulling the trigger, wielding control over a niche market of dedicated users might be better than a wider, more diffuse one.
Look no further than a minor crisis unfolding on Facebook's servers. According to a report published by The Information, Facebook users are steadily posting less and less personal information in their profiles' statuses. As of mid-2015, Facebook saw its monthly active users post 21 percent less original personal content than they did the year before. It's a troubling development. Despite larger friends lists and more content than ever to view, Facebook users are seeing less and less reason to personally engage themselves in the site's constant churning.
This doesn't make Facebook's chatbot mission with Messenger impossible, but it could make it more difficult than the path ahead for Twitch, a site that already leans on a content type to draw users in. There goes half the guesswork involved in finding the right context for a sale — Twitch visitors are there to play, watch and compete in games, after all — and an Amazon spokeswoman confirmed to TheStreet in March that Twitch's heavy population of independent game developers dovetails perfectly with the now-robust suite of game-making tools from Amazon Web Services.
"We have a significant business selling video games, most game developers use AWS to build their game infrastructure and we've continued to invest in improving the customer experience for gamers and game developers," the spokeswoman said. "Twitch is another substantial step in this direction for Amazon. Twitch has fundamentally changed how games are consumed and interacted with, and it's a service that gamers and game broadcasters now find hard to live without."
That's what Twitch puts in front of a company like Amazon — an active consumer base engaged in content relevant to their interest by the very nature of the platform. And now that the platform has a full suite of messaging services around it, Jeff Bezos is a press conference away from announcing a way to put AI chatbots to use leveraging it.
It's an enticing proposition for Amazon — just as unsettling as it should be for Facebook and the interest it's managed to drum up around contextual commerce over the past few weeks. If it's not careful, Amazon and its horde of gamers could steal it right out from under its profiles.