Facebook’s annual F8 conference, slated to run April 12-13 at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, CA, is the social network’s chance to show off its latest developer tools. In addition to the sessions and demos (at least 40 this year), the company also uses the event to show off new products—its Oculus Rift headset will almost certainly command a spotlight this year.
If the current scuttlebutt is correct, this year’s F8 will highlight Facebook’s interest in a relatively nascent software category that could nonetheless take the tech world by storm: bots.
According to TechCrunch, Facebook will provide developers with the APIs to build chatbots, many of which will have an enterprise-centric focus: “Chatbot providers will help businesses build automated response systems for fielding messages from potential customers.”
That could certainly help Facebook (and its Messenger platform) evolve into a more robust tool for businesses, which often face a relentless flood of Facebook messages—especially during product crises or PR snafus—that are hard for human beings to handle.
Like Facebook, Microsoft believes the future is bots. At the company’s BUILD conference last month (also in San Francisco), executives rolled out a toolkit for custom-building bots that can perform a variety of small tasks, including sending automated messages to colleagues. Microsoft’s track record with bots is somewhat checkered, however, after its most high-profile experiment, @TayandYou, quickly devolved from chatty to profanity-spewing in the course of a single day.
Other companies, such as Slack, have demonstrated somewhat more luck with bots, which should give Facebook developers hope that the technology will catch on with the general populace. In any case, expect the social network to roll out some bot-building tools during F8.