“No one wants to have to install a new app for every business or service they want to interact with. We think you should be able to just message a business in the same way you message a friend.” - Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, April 12, 2016.
Facebook's April 12, 2016 announcement that it welcomes outside developers to create 'bots' for its Messenger platform could well be a historic step in software history. With over 900 million Messenger users, the social media giant has huge plans to redirect the $77 billion App industry's revenue into FB bots. Now, how does one access the bots? Just search the type of business you want to access in the Messenger search bar.
Lately, Messenger allows you to chat with another person by just scanning the circular codes surrounding the person's profile photo. Over three dozen companies are presently collaborating with Messenger. These include Bank of America, Burger King and CNN. Inviting outside developers is expected to bring in more integration opportunities.
How are Bots faring?
"Conversational interface is the classic, human way of finding information, and in a way, we’re just now bringing that to mobile devices. And mobile is the only format that really matters now, it’s clear.” - Sam Mandel, CEO, Poncho weather app, launch partner on Facebook Messenger.
Automated conversation evolution has a long way to go. Believability and efficiency of the medium is yet to set in; personalization is still an issue. Service quality varies, depending on the company offering the service. It is still unclear how other bot services will fare.
The news is, conversation experiences should improve, once Facebook Messenger evolves out of its beta stage. With FB allowing sponsored messages, users have the choice to block these messages and shield themselves from targeted sponsored content.
Eventually, Facebook will look to overrun Google's all-pervading presence. Google is already struggling to replicate its desktop search engine ad success in the mobile space. So if users start using FB Messenger bots for their queries, instead of Google, they may have started something seriously big. But clearly, it is still early days. Read about the Facebook bot engine here.
Bots vs Apps?
- Several brands are attracted to the conversational format of chat-bots. How the Messenger responds to your text like a human acquaintance has its own advantages. There is talk about bots replacing apps entirely. But that may be far-fetched talk yet.
- Chat-bots may yet be a passing fad. Just how long will it take for people to get bored of artificially-inclined conversation? Unless the conversations attain a high degree of expertise, replicate a human-like ease, replacing apps is a distant dream.
- With no operating system to offer, no revenue potential in selling other company apps, bots could finally be a money-making venture for the social media giant. Facebook is not taking a cut from bot-generated sales as yet. Popularity will easily change that status, for sure.
- On paper (for now, at least) bots have an edge over apps. Apps have to be downloaded. As app usage statistics show, personalization was the fastest growing app category in 2015. Ironically, this could be the very thing that could go against apps and work for bots. For bots are all about personalization.
- Bots are certainly offering variety in the types of services. From getting bank account notifications, buying flowers, answering health-related questions, ordering home-delivered food and getting photos printed, a new market is slowly and surely opening up. Bot USP: All is available on a single platform - FB Messenger. In contrast, downloading multiple apps onto your mobile device may seem irritating.
- Good apps are not a matter of choice, as each is independently created. In contrast, Messenger bots have an easy familiarity. But Facebook is not into this for nothing. That smartphone users do not download brand new apps as often is a sign that there is a customer gap to fill. It is for bots to fill that gap. How they go about transforming their 900 million Messenger user base to die-hard bot fans is another thing altogether. Learn how to create bots here.
A Bots Future
"Messaging is the new browser and bots are the websites."- Mike Roberts, Head of Kik, instant messaging app.
- Matthew Berman, a Sonar (mobile app that acts as dashboard for FB Messenger and other apps) co-founder does believe that bots can help in personalized interaction, but that human representatives need to take over when the conversation takes a complex turn. As the other Sonar co-founder Neeharika Bhartiya states – bot revenue is in marketing and in urging users to actions rather than sponsored posts.
- Beerud Sheth, CEO, bot firm Gupshup, mentions how,“On a small screen (like your phone), you’re opening up a messaging app 100 times a day already, something that’s not being done with any other app. It’s convenient and successful.”
- Phil Libin, partner at General Catalyst, American venture capital firm, states how with bots you don't need to work with a user interface, push or swipe or learn its use. It is just interaction in the form of conversation.
- Almost every other service is pitching up bot support, there is no one clear leader in the mix. Ryan Block, co-founder of Begin,a bot startup, says how bots are the next natural evolution of human-computer interaction. Though it will be time before a clear market leader emerges, he suspects it could be Facebook.
Finally, it is still early days to predict bots taking over the mobile application world, but we can emphatically conclude that Facebook is on to something big. At the time of writing, apps still rule.
(Statistics Source: nielsen.com & Forrester Research study)