Facebook Messenger Bots Are Gambling With The Future Of Chat

By @TheMarkDalton

At Facebook’s F8 developer conference this year we were introduced to Facebook’s take on Messenger Bots. Basically, bots are automated applications which perform a task inside of messenger. It could mean that down the line you will be able to do things like order a pizza by text or check flight status by text.

I have been using bots over the past number of weeks since F8 and spent a large part of my afternoon on Saturday playing around with them. I used to answer every message on Facebook, but not anymore, now I don’t know if it is a friend texting me or a bot pinging me with a notification. This is exactly how we came to hate email.

Email started out as a way for colleagues and people to reach out and connect. When email started out we used to open and read every god damn email we received. However now it serves as a tool to send people email pleading them to sign up to your newsletter or buy your product.

When Facebook forced us to download Messenger as a separate app people were pretty much distraught. Now that we have moved on we can see why Facebook made that decision, since they have moved people onto the separate app it has grown to nearly a billion users.

The Gamble
Facebook now wants to get businesses and brands on board and this seems to be the way to do it. If Facebook manages to pull it off then Messenger could host customer service, ecommerce follow-ups, deliver content and more. A business could use bots to reach out, connect, and personalise the communication experience for a large number of customers at scale in a way which has never been done before.

Ringing a company is annoying, nobody wants to ring a company. I shudder at the thought of having to deal with a robot telling me to press a load of buttons before talking to someone from that company. As technology progresses, people don’t want to make or receive calls anymore.

I hate it when my phone rings, and there are a lot of people who feel the exact same way. Why? Because we know that technology is at a place where that doesn’t need to be the case anymore. You could have text me and I’ll get back to you instead of you ringing me on my time. If Facebook gets it right then it could be a revolution.

The Risk
Sounds great right? However the risk is high and so far from what I have seen and experienced, the product is massively underdeveloped. Spam in email is one thing, we can check email at our leisure but getting spam in text messages? That is never, ever going to be a good thing.

Once you give a bot the necessary permissions it needs when you set it up then it can ping you all day if it wants to. The biggest problem right now is that the first batch of bots suck. Initially I thought this could be an error on Facebook’s part – the truth is that it is and it isn’t – let me explain what I mean.

It is not Facebook’s fault that the first wave of bots from developers suck. Facebook has not developed these bots, someone else has and it is the developers responsibility to audit themselves and their applications to make sure they are working correctly.

It is Facebook’s fault because they clearly didn’t audit the bots themselves, and if they did then they didn’t do a good job of it. Facebook should have hooked onto big time developers and worked so damn closely with them to really showcase what bots could be but instead it seems to be just thrown together and pushed out to the public.

Just take a look at what the experience with Poncho the weather bot is like.

poncho

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After getting completely frustrated with the Poncho experience I tested out the H&M bot. It gets you started with a series of questions to gain some basic info about you and your style. Then the bot will suggest different products it thinks you may be interested in.

It was an interesting concept, there were not many problems understanding what I was saying like Poncho had, however at the end I thought to myself – “Is this more convenient than browsing the H&M website?” and the answer is ’No.’ That in itself is a problem for Facebook bots at the moment.

Can Facebook Nail It?
If anyone can get it right when it comes to bots I think it will be Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. I can visualise a time when I see it working and I can see a time in the future where it could be big however at the moment it is falling way short of being ready for public use at scale.

The big problem that Facebook could run into if they are not careful is spam. As more and more bots will be released over the coming months for Facebook Messenger there is going to be an increasingly high chance that your actual friends get drowned out by the noise.

If I am willing to ignore bots when they ping me through Messenger then I am more than likely going to ignore and miss conversation with actual friends too. Facebook needs to keep in mind that spam is how we started hating email so intensely, any interruption to daily life needs to provide high value especially if it is content delivered by Messenger.