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First things first. What is a bot?

Well, in truth, it can be tricky to provide a concise answer. Even for those well versed in digital, it’s a new concept to get the head around. Is it a chatbot? Not entirely. Is it an app? Sort of.

Bots suffer slightly from a misnomer. The word derives from ‘robot’ and in more recent times has been closely associated to the ‘chatbot’. But if you were to search for the history of bots, they date back to the 1960s:

“MIT professor Joseph Weizenbaum developed ELIZA, the first ever chatbot, which could “interact” with people like a psychotherapist would. He used a script that would recognise certain patterns and keywords, and generate a response accordingly — usually asking the patient how they felt about the issue at hand.”
– Chatbots magazine

So, bots have been around for a while. It’s just their application that has shifted somewhat. This shift, with regards to Facebook Messenger and the ‘chatbot’ to ‘bot’ focus over the last year, can largely be put down to the functionality of the Messenger app itself.

When Messenger was launched back in April 2016, there were a few visual UI elements, but the main feature was natural language processing – or, put simply, chatting. Just like they attempted in the 1960’s, you could have a messaging conversation with one of these chatbots and the artificial intelligence would present you with the information you need.

While this was pretty cool, and in some cases (particularly within customer service) there was huge potential for usage, the issue was that chatting with a chatbot often fell into one of two categories:

a) It doesn’t always work


b) It actually takes longer to achieve the required outcome

What didn’t help, was that in the early stages of the chatbot buzz, there was a notion that users would mind their Ps and Qs and message a chatbot in a formal manner. That never happened. And it never made any sense. More often than not, you just need a yes/no button to make things simple because users would rather it just operate like an app.

From chatbots to bots

With the realisation that things should be simplified, the chatbots became bots. Or rather, they were bots all along…

“We never called them chatbots. We called them bots. People took it too literally in the first three months that the future was going to be conversational.”
– David Marcus, VP Messenger

The real driver behind this strategy from Facebook was to replicate the enormous success of WeChat in Asia – providing users with the tools they need, in the platform they already use most, with no need to download a standalone app:

“If you look at apps and the app market right now, if you’re not launching something that’s going to get daily use, it’s not going to be successful. People will use it once and forget it. As an app developer, it’s extremely hard to get distribution right now.”
– David Marcus, VP Messenger

The great thing about bots in comparison to standalone apps is that they’re considerably cheaper to develop, faster to launch, more discoverable, shareable and personalised. Messenger was the most downloaded app in 2015/16 and it’s still growing fast thanks to its use of bots.

So, what exactly can a bot do?

This video demonstrates how, within a group discussing takeaway food on Messenger, a bot notices the intent of the conversation and offers a delivery.com food bot seamlessly. There’s no need for anyone to leave the conversation, no need to download anything.

M & Delivery.com

A few weeks ago, we rolled out M suggestions to our U.S. users: http://bit.ly/2p1y9EN and most recently announced that M can now order you food from delivery.com. If you’re chatting with friends about what to grab for dinner, M may suggest placing an order. The whole experience can be completed in Messenger, including group ordering and payment. The more you use M, the more it will make relevant suggestions to you. At this time, this feature is available in the United States, where delivery.com is available.

Posted by Messenger on Wednesday, 3 May 2017

 

When it comes to transactions, Messenger will also be a hugely effective tool. Currently available in the USA, and soon to roll out to the UK markets, payment will be possible. Card details are stored against the Messenger app just as they are with Apple pay. No need to enter card details each time, it’s just a one-tap payment. Conversion rates, particularly for smaller transactions, will see huge improvements on this platform.

Group Payments in Messenger

Today, we’re introducing group payments in Messenger. Whether you’re splitting the bill at dinner or collecting gas money for a weekend road trip, group payments on Messenger make sending and receiving money between a group faster and easier than ever before. Here’s how it works: in a group conversation, simply tap the + sign in the bottom left hand corner of the screen to find more features and tap the payments icon ($). From there, you can choose who to send or request money from, whether it’s everyone in the group or only a few members. Then, enter the amount of money you want to request per person or the total sum to split evenly between the people you choose. You will also be able to specify what the payment is for and track the status of all payments in the group conversation. Group payments in Messenger is available in the United States. For more information, visit: http://bit.ly/2nBakTG.

Posted by Messenger on Tuesday, 11 April 2017

 

Bots can perform the same tasks, with the same level of usability as standalone apps in some cases. They’re often faster too, with stored personal details.

How are bots discovered?

One avenue is the intent aspect, as mentioned in the food ordering example above. Bots can notice keywords in a conversation and make suggestions during the chat. Another is the newly launched ‘Discover’ tab within Messenger – it’s like Facebook’s very own app store. Bots are categorised, so they can be found more easily, and the best (or paid for) bots will appear within the Featured section at the top.

Discover tab on Messenger

Posted by Messenger on Monday, 17 April 2017

Found a great bot and want to share it with friends? This is possible in both a one-to-one chat, as well as group chats. The benefits once again are instant use, and no need to copy referral codes. Bots have the ability to go viral through messaging.

Finally, Facebook have enabled Messenger integrated ads meaning it’s possible to advertise your bot within a Facebook feed and, when clicked, it launches within Messenger. Early adopters also have the advantage of lower advertising costs, paying less per click through.

What bot would benefit your business?

While the above examples go some way towards demonstrating what we mean by a bot, at the end of the day the bot your business uses might end up being completely different. A bot will be bespoke to you and your requirements. What Facebook Messenger has enabled is the ability to tailor a digital product that is useful, user friendly, and used more often – the possibilities are therefore endless.

We are only at version 2.0 of Messenger. As the platform evolves, so will the features available. Just fourteen months since the platform was launched, bots are being noticed by the wider public. And the adoption of bots within big brands such as eBay, Channel 4, Dominos and CNN to name but a few will benefit the platform in the long run.

At 21six Bots we are currently working with businesses in the food, automotive, leisure and retail industries to develop bespoke and brilliant bots – but what could we do for you?

Contact us to find out how we can integrate bots into your business >