F8 2016: Bots for the Messenger Platform Are Here

As expected, one of the highlights of Facebook’s F8 global developers’ conference in San Francisco Tuesday was the introduction of bots for its Messenger application.

As expected, one of the highlights of Facebook’s F8 global developers’ conference in San Francisco Tuesday was the introduction of bots for its Messenger application.

Vice president of messaging products David Marcus provided details on Facebook’s new Messenger Platform (Beta), which gives developers the ability to create bots, along with access to the social network’s new Messenger Send/Receive API (application-programming interface), discovery tools and access to Wit.ai’s Bot Engine.

Marcus elaborated on bots for the Messenger Platform in a Newsroom post:

Bots can provide anything from automated subscription content like weather and traffic updates, to customized communications like receipts, shipping notifications and live automated messages, all by interacting directly with the people who want to get them.

He added that starting Tuesday, all developers and businesses can build bots for Messenger and submit them for approval, and a developer blog post outlined the three main capabilities, as well as directing developers and businesses to the Messenger Platform page for further information:

  • Send/Receive API: This new capability includes the ability to send and receive text, images and rich bubbles with calls to action.
  • Generic message templates: We think people prefer to tap buttons and see beautiful images, rather than learn a new programming language to interact with your bot. That’s why we’ve built structured messages with calls to action, horizontal scroll, URLs and postbacks.
  • Welcome screen + null state CTAs: Our first principle was giving developers space to own the experience. Think of the message thread as your app. We’re giving you the real estate and the tools to customize your experience. This starts with the welcome screen. People discover our featured bots and enter the conversation. Then, they see your brand, your Messenger greeting and a call to action to “Get Started.”

Marcus also discussed the Send/Receive API:

The Messenger Send/Receive API will support not only sending and receiving text, but also images and interactive rich bubbles containing multiple calls-to-action. Developers can also set a welcome screen for their threads to set context, as well as different controls.

And in addition to the tools Marcus announced last week—user names, Messenger Links, Messenger Codes and Messenger Greetings–he revealed Tuesday that ads in Facebook’s News Feed will enable users to open Messenger threads, and a new customer-matching feature will enable businesses to send messages that are usually sent via SMS through Messenger instead.

The developer blog post offered more color on bot discovery:

We’ve taken steps to make it as easy as possible for your customers to discover you on Messenger. You can use web plugins, Messenger Codes, Messenger Links or Messenger user names. We’ve also focused on the ecosystem that developers use, enabling many platforms that have made it even easier to access Messenger tools, including Shopify, Twilio and Zendesk. And for businesses that already take advantage of using SMS for real-time communication–like when your food delivery is at your door or when your ride is outside–with customer matching tools, we’ve built a new way for you to easily transfer those conversations to Messenger.

Finally, Marcus mentioned that giving developers access to Wit.ai’s Bot Engine will enable them to build more complex bots that can interpret users’ intent via natural language, and further details were provided in the developer blog post:

To compliment the functionality of bots for Messenger, we’re introducing another tool to facilitate more complex conversational experiences, leveraging our learnings with M. The Wit.ai Bot Engine enables ongoing training of bots using sample conversations. This enables you to create conversational bots that can automatically chat with users. The Wit.ai Bot Engine effectively turns natural language into structured data as a simple way to manage context and drive conversations based on your business’ or app’s goals.

Facebook provided a list of Messenger partners (embedded below), as well as some examples of their uses for bots. Its initial Messenger partners are:

  • 1-800-Flowers
  • Bank of America
  • Burger King/Tim Hortons
  • Business Insider
  • CNN
  • eBay
  • Expedia
  • Fandango
  • Great Western Railway/Conversocial
  • HealthTap
  • HP
  • LivePerson
  • Mic
  • Operator
  • OwnerListens
  • Philz Coffee
  • Poncho
  • Rogers
  • Salesforce
  • Shopify
  • Sonar
  • Spark Central
  • Spring
  • Staples
  • StubHub
  • theScore
  • Thrillist
  • ToyTalk
  • Twilio
  • Zalando
  • Zendesk
  • Zingle

Readers: What uses can you think of for bots for the Messenger Platform?

F8 2016: Facebook Messenger Partners

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david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.