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SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook is opening up Messenger to third-party apps.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg made the announcement at F8, Facebook’s conference for software developers.

Zuckerberg called it an “exciting, big new area and opportunity for Facebook.”

The giant social network is mining the potential of its popular messaging service to extend beyond text messaging to new forms of expression.

App developers will be able to bring “rich new ways” to have conversations on Messenger, Zuckerberg said.

Messenger Platform will offer more than 40 new apps so that people can add GIFs, photos, videos and audio clips to their conversations.

By giving people new ways to interact on Messenger, Facebook is hoping to keep their attention from wandering to rival services.

One of the new apps on Messenger is Ditty which sings personal messages to friends in the melody of famous songs.

Users type up to 70 characters, select a track such as “Counting Stars” or “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and Ditty generates a personalized lyric, according to Zya, the company that created the app.

“Ditty makes it possible for people to have musical conversations and Messenger provides a great platform for such conversations,” said Matt Serletic, co-founder and CEO of Zya.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave the keynote at F8 on Wednesday. (Photo: Chris Wiggins, USA TODAY)

Facebook also announced “Businesses on Messenger,” which lets users have personal conversations with businesses. For example, after buying something from a website, users can choose to get updates such as order confirmations and shipping status or ask questions of the business in Messenger, all in a single thread.

Last week Facebook announced a new feature that lets friends send money for free via Messenger.

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Messenger has 600 million users. WhatsApp, the popular messaging service Facebook bought for $ 22 billion, has 700 million users.

Increasingly Messenger and WhatsApp are competing with the likes of not just Snapchat but China’s WeChat (owned by Chinese Internet giant Tencent Holdings), Japan’s Line and South Korea’s Kakao Talk.

Those services which are a combination of an instant messaging app and social network are used by hundreds of millions in Asia and other parts of the globe to make voice calls, play games, share photos, read entertainment or sports news, summon a taxi, buy movie tickets or virtual goods such as emoji or stickers.

Though still tiny compared with Facebook’s nearly 1.4 billion users, WeChat and Line pose a competitive threat as Facebook looks to expand around the globe.

Last summer Facebook recruited PayPal chief David Marcus to become vice president of messaging products.

With the two-day conference, Facebook is looking to strengthen its sometimes rocky relationship with software developers.

Software developers could help spread the popularity and boost the moneymaking potential of the giant social network on mobile phones.

Facebook has successfully made the leap with consumers as they shifted their time and attention to mobile phones from desktop computers. The Menlo Park, Calif., company generated 69% of its advertising revenue from mobile ads in the fourth quarter.

Facebook’s F8 conference started Wednesday as the company’s stock traded at record highs.

Zuckerberg opened the conference. Facebook’s chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer, known inside the company as “Schroep,” will take over on Thursday to discuss Oculus VR, the virtual reality company it bought for $ 2 billion, and other cutting edge technologies.

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