As expected, Facebook has launched a platform that allows developers to build bots for Messenger, the social network’s messaging platform.
At least at this early stage, Facebook is positioning its bots primarily as a means for businesses to automate conversations with customers. The Messenger Platform (still in beta, but now open for developers to try things out) allows companies to customize the welcome message that customers see when interacting with the bot, as well as format individual messages with images, text, and multiple buttons.
If developers gravitate toward the Messenger Platform, we could eventually see hundreds of companies launching bots with a broad array of functionality. Facebook certainly hopes that, if people can use Messenger bots for everything from checking the weather to confirming an order shipment, they’ll rely on Messenger to help manage increasingly big chunks of their lives—and that’s good news for the social network and its clients.
David Marcus, the Facebook executive overseeing the project, told Wired that the company has no intention of building a “bot store” where Messenger users can download programs: “It’s not as if you need to go buy something or download something; the interaction is much more seamless.” But the exact nature of that “organic” interaction remains a question—if Facebook floods conversation threads with too many bots, it could end up driving people away.
Facebook already faces (pun intended) competition from a number of bot-building tech firms in the space, including Microsoft and Slack. At March’s BUILD conference in San Francisco, Microsoft rolled out a developer toolkit for building bots that can execute simple tasks—and like Facebook, it’s aiming the service at businesses. Slack, the enterprise-messaging service that competes in the same space as Messenger, recently launched an $80 million fund for bot and app development.
So although Facebook attracted developer attention with its Messenger Platform announcement, the company doesn’t have the bot market to itself—especially since other tech firms will doubtlessly plunge into the space in the months and years ahead.