You can order food directly from Facebook

In Facebook’s attempt to keep the users on the site more than the average of 50 minutes per day, the company has added food ordering to its roster of activities. So, now, in addition to playing games, pinging your elementary school friends and sharing your Kickstarter faves, you can click and order food from local restaurants.

The feature, recently added to Facebook’s mobile and webtop sites, is basic in its operation. Depending on security settings, the “Order Food” option on the menu (marked with a hamburger emoji) will either populate nearby establishments or allow you to search based on location. A story in TechCrunch reports the new service will be powered by Delivery.com and Slice.

Rather than making a big splash with the announcement, Facebook mentioned food ordering in an October 2016 release. The news was lumped in with other planned capabilities, such as requesting appointments, buying movie tickets and getting quotes from local businesses. In short, it’s the concept of throwing ideas against a wall and seeing what will stick.

Because of Facebook’s reach and market clout, this new capability may be considered a threat to established player such as GrubHub (whose stock took an immediate hit).  In reality, that notion of immediate impact on competitors is an overreach. While Facebook’s new Order Food capability has yet to fully mature, it does not appear to be incorporated into user feeds which would make it far more immediate and powerful. As currently deployed, the feature is not an impulse play like the many sponsored posts that appear in Facebook member feeds. Facebook hopes its habitual users will simply add food delivery to their existing list of activities as they go through their day.

More than anything, Facebook’s entry into the restaurant delivery space shines a light on one of the company’s more glaring weaknesses—its lack of a viable commerce infrastructure. On the other hand, Amazon’s new restaurant delivery service takes on all the workload from the restaurants it serves. And, by the way, Amazon has its own fleet of drivers to deliver food while Facebook is in the background with others doing the heavy lifting.

Facebook’s strategy of looking for ways to keep its users on the site longer is a throwback to the early days of web portals such as Yahoo, Lycos, Infoseek and even AOL. Those stalwarts had one or two prime draws—generally search and email—that kept folks coming back several times a day. Each of these—now mostly dormant—websites began to add new functionality which eventually made them so cluttered that they collapsed under the weight of their vision. It also is one of the reasons that Google was able to come in and eradicate the competition—it did one thing (search) and did it better than anyone else.

In the volatile world of food delivery, the winners will be those who offer restaurants a total, easy-to-use platform that allows them to focus on food, while partners such as GrubHub, UberEats, Amazon, Postmates and others take on the heavy lifting. Will Facebook be a player in this food fight? Probably not.

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Allen Weiner is an Austin-based freelance writer focusing on applications of new technology in the areas of food, media and education. In his 17-year career as a vice president and analyst with Gartner, Inc., the world’s largest IT research and advisory firm, Allen was a frequent speaker at company and industry events as well as one of the most-quoted analysts in the area of new media. With an extensive background in publishing and publishing technology, Allen is noted as the founder of The Gate (sfgate.com), the nation’s first daily newspaper on the web. Born in Philadelphia, Allen is a graduate of Muhlenberg College and Temple University.