Facebook Messenger Chat Bots Are Coming

And today in “OMG, you guys, the future is now!", we have this: Facebook Messenger chat bots are coming, and they’re about to make your life a whole lot more interesting. Facebook chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the new feature at the social media giant's annual developer conference, f8, on Tuesday, according to USA Today. A new API, Send/Receive, will allow all the businesses on Messenger — over 50 million of them — to build chat bots enabling Messenger users to access their services via a simple chat window. Remember that whole Taco Bell TacoBot on Slack we heard about last week? It’s like that — only for just about every business on Facebook Messenger. Because let’s face it: We don’t just want to be able to order lunch without having to speak to a soul. We want to be able to accomplish everything in our lives without having to speak to a soul.

According to the Facebook Newsroom, developers will work with the Messenger Send/Receive API to open up the services offered by their businesses to chat-oriented delivery. What kinds of services? Well… pretty much anything, depending on what each developer chooses to do with the API. The Facebook Newsroom announcement notes that “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.” Is it kind of the online equivalent of the robot who’s on the other end of the phone every time you call the cable company? Kind of — but probably a lot more useful.

Odds are you’re already familiar with chat bots; indeed, if you grew up in the ‘90s, you witnessed the rise of the chat bot firsthand through AIM staples like Smarter Child. They're not human; they're robots that appear in little chat windows on your favorite electronic device. But they're robots programmed to converse in very particular ways, which can allow them to mimick human interaction in a fascinating and occasionally freaky way.

Where the Facebook Messenger bots differ from Smarter Child and its ilk, however, is in their practicality — that is, they’re actually meant to do things. They don’t just answer questions like “Why is the sky blue?”; they can get stuff accomplished in the real world. In the demonstrations Zuckerberg gave during the conference, for example, the Messenger chat bots ordered flowers with 1-800-FLOWERS simply by the user sending the bot the recipient’s name (that's what that image a paragraph or so up shows) and sent “daily digests” of stories from CNN that matched the user’s interests. The bots also open up possibilities like making restaurant reservations, booking hotels or plane tickets, and much, much more. As Zuckerberg put it, according to USA Today: “We think you should manage a business just the way you would message a friend.”

I mean, just imagine being able to shop online like this:

Uh... yes, please.

Although USA Today writes that “starting Tuesday … Messenger users now have a half dozen more bots on Messenger to try, with another dozen or more coming soon," it doesn’t look like they’re available for everyone yet. Both myself and Bustle web culture editor Emma Lord haven’t been able to locate the bots, so we’re probably looking at a situation kind of like the initial rollout of Facebook Reactions — that is, they’re only available for a tiny, tiny percentage of users at the moment. Furthermore, although all developers and business have access to the API today, they’ll have to submit their bots before they appear on message — states the Facebook Newsroom, “We will gradually accept and approve submission to ensure the best experiences for everyone on Messenger.”

So we’re still at the very beginning of this grand old chat bot adventure right now — but what an adventure it’s shaping up to be. Here’s hoping there’s loads more to come.

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Images: Facebook