Over the past few months, Facebook has been developing ways to integrate businesses (and revenue generation) into the Messenger app.
The latest development has arrived, and it’s called bots. These bots are essentially a mix of apps and chat AIs.
They use artificial intelligence to provide information or shopping services. While still just getting started (and running into some growing pains), these bots might be an important part of the future of businesses on Facebook.
Facebook announced the roll-out of Messenger bots at its F8 conference on Tuesday, and they elaborated on the development in a blog post for developers. Although the bots just officially launched, Facebook has already partnered with a collection of businesses who already have bots available. They include CNN, 1-800-Flowers, The Wall Street Journal, and HP.
The group of current partners makes it clear that Facebook wants both sales- and media-oriented businesses to be able to use bots. David Marcus, Facebook’s VP of Messaging Products, commented, “Bots can provide anything from automated subscription content like weather and traffic updates, to customized communications like receipts, shipping notifications, and live automated messages.”
Brands who weren’t part of Facebook’s initial launch will be able to use guidelines provided by Facebook to develop their own bots. You must then submit your bots for Facebook to review. Facebook says they will gradually be approving submissions but hasn’t posted any guidelines about how many they aim to approve or how quickly.
Developers will be able to include tools such as welcome screens, calls-to-action, AI, website plugins, and more. Chat text can be built to include Messenger’s different features, such as emojis and gifs. The bots that are currently active provide a sneak peak of what bots might be capable of. 1-800-Flowers, as you might imagine, lets users order flowers, while HP provides an option to print pictures. A bot called HealthTap responds to health questions, and one called Poncho will tell you about the local weather. CNN will share news stories related to your preferences.
The possibilities, then, are pretty wide-ranging. This all depends, however, on how well the bots actually work. Many of the bots rely heavily on artificial intelligence and the ability to interpret natural language. This can mean a steep learning curve, and some of the bots don’t seem to be performing well yet. Gizmodo called the bots “frustrating and useless,” citing their inability to respond to requests that varied from a narrow set of pre-determined questions. Others echoed the sentiment that the bots feel unnatural and failed to provide what the user was actually looking for. Of course, the bots are still in their early days and likely need time for refinement. As with most artificial intelligence, they’ll need time to learn and be developed.
The premise of Messenger bots is to insert brands into chats in a way that feels natural. Users will have to find it easy to switch between chatting with friends in Messenger and chatting with a bot. In order to be successful, bots will have to be easier or more fun to use than a simple website or standalone app. To accomplish this, bots will have to become less robotic and a lot more human.
Written by content manager Meghan Woolley
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