As part of their annual F8 developer conference, Facebook has announced a new update for their Messenger platform, with a range of new tools and features designed to get you doing more on Messenger, and to promote the utility of the now more than 100,000 active bots on the platform.
That's right, 100,000 - that's a big jump from the 34,000 active bots Facebook had noted last November.
As you can see from the above image, bots remain a key focus for Messenger - while we haven't yet seen bots become the all-encompassing personal assistant devices Facebook envisioned with the launch of their bot platform at last year's F8 conference, the numbers show that enthusiasm for bots, and the potential they represent, hasn't wavered. Now the question is, how do you get more people to understand the value bots can provide?
These latest updates should help.
First off, they're adding a new discovery tool, which will help people find relevant options within the app:
"We've created a new surface to help people intuitively browse and find the best bots, places and businesses in Messenger. Discover showcases popular bots in our ecosystem, nearby places that people can message, and businesses that offer support or answer questions. Discover also includes categories such as Entertainment, News, Food & Drink and many more. We encourage all bot developers to complete our Discover submission form today to ensure their details are up to date."
As you can see, the Discovery tool is accessed by tapping the new lightning icon at the bottom right of screen. The option will make it easier to find relevant bots and tools within Messenger, which could help change the perception of what's possible within the app and get people utilizing more advanced features - there's no point having 100,000 bots available if no one knows what they are or what they can be used for.
In this example, the user has brought the Spotify bot into a group conversation in order to share a song in the group chat. Facebook says the option will enable people to "contextually bring a bot into a conversation in order to collaborate on creating shopping lists, ordering food, splitting payments, sharing music and other new and existing use cases".
As we reported when this functionality was first suggested, the option could help further boost bot awareness through word-of-mouth - you might not know every applicable bot you could use to look up info or make bookings, but if one person in your group does, that's enough to bring them in. The functionality could greatly expand bot usage, making them a more important tool to consider in future.
How else can users discover bots? Facebook's also announced 'Parametric Messenger Codes' which will enable businesses to generate multiple QR codes for their Messenger bots in order to see which ones are being scanned the most.
Messenger QR codes have been available since last April, but the new option will enable for more flexibility in how codes are used, which is specifically focused on bot usage.
"Separate codes can be used to activate different bot functionalities when each is scanned. For instance, hardware devices can feature parametric codes to allow people to link their account and control the device. Restaurants can assign tables using different codes, giving their bot a way to know where food should be delivered."
The option provides additional bot options, which could boost functionality and appeal to specific use-cases.
And there's also their M messaging assistant.
A few weeks back, Facebook announced that their ambitious M AI project was being rolled out more widely in a more restrained 'M Assistant' mode. Now, they've announced that M assistant will be 'listening in' to your messages at all times, and will recognize when you're talking about specific subjects in order to offer direct assistance. Like when you might want to order food.
As noted by Facebook:
"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."
The options and tools M can provide will evolve over time, with Facebook looking to connect you direct to services and, again, highlight the utility of the various Messenger tools on offer. It may seem a little intrusive, but if it provides functionality, it's fair bet people will use it.
In addition Facebook's also making it easier for all businesses to move towards automation with the ability to automate replies to frequently asked questions.
As reported by BuzzFeed, businesses will be able to set up responses to easy-to-answer questions like "What are your business hours?" or "Where are you located?" This seems like a step towards fully bot-powered experiences for those businesses who can't afford to do - a simple introduction to automation that can help streamline the process, and maybe highlight what they might be able to achieve if they invested in their own bot.
Marketing Land notes that the new option, powered by Facebook's Wit.ai platform, will enable businesses to utilize Facebook's existing conversational learning in order to respond to a wider variety of user questions with the relevant answers, again, without having to have an in-depth knowledge of the bot design process.
And the last major Messenger update relates to their games platform - they're adding a heap of new games, a new games tab and the addition of turn-based functionality.
Facebook added their Instant Games option to Messenger last November, giving users the option to challenge their friends to a range of classic arcade-style options. Gaming presents another revenue opportunity for Messenger, and previous tests have shown that Messenger users are open to gaming experiences in the app.
There's a lot to take in, a heap of options and tools to consider. And while it may seem a bit overwhelming, it's worth also noting that Messenger recently reached a new milestone of 1.2 billion monthly active users, showing that despite the cluttering of the app, and the introduction of new options, app usage is still growing. It's fair to assume that audience expansion will continue, and that these new tools could help boost Messenger bots into public awareness.
And if they do, bots will become a more serious consideration for all brands. They may seem beyond your technical capacity, like something your business might not be able to use. But Facebook's still betting big on bots becoming a key platform - if they can make it happen, consumer expectations will shift to cater for these new opportunities.
It's worth considering how these new tools could, potentially, fit into your strategy.