Facebook has announced the launch of a chat bot service for its Messenger platform that could let businesses communicate with customers without the need for human interaction.
Officially called 'Bots for the Messenger Platform', the idea is that companies use the Bots API to create virtual chat agents that allow Messenger users to ask questions about the weather or delivery notifications, for example, book hotel rooms or find the latest news.
The only live bot you can test at this time is Poncho the weather cat which, as the name suggests, tells you the weather. It's not impossible to imagine a similar interaction about booking a table at a restaurant or ordering flowers.
"The Messenger Send/Receive API will support not only sending and receiving text, but images and interactive rich bubbles containing multiple calls-to-action," wrote David Marcus, vice president of Messaging products, in a blog post announcing the product.
Developers can also set a welcome screen for their threads to set context as well as different controls.
Facebook confirmed that the API is now open for developers and businesses to build bots for Messenger and submit them for review.
The firm has also opened its Wit.ai’s Bot Engine to developers so they can "build more complex bots that can interpret intention from natural language and continuously learn to get better over time".
Salesforce is already using the service, and has created a Salesforce for Messenger tool that offers chat services for customers.
"Now with Messenger, Facebook is inviting companies to engage their customers in new ways on its platform at scale,” said Alex Dayon, president and chief product officer at Salesforce.
"With Salesforce for Messenger companies will be able to easily connect their businesses to Messenger, creating deeper, more personalised and one-to-one customer journeys in the chat experience.”
Martin Garner, senior vice president for internet at analyst firm CCS Insight, said it is clear that the success of Messenger has big potential for Facebook and that bots are a natural extension of the platform.
“This is Facebook's big push into bots and a huge potential source of new revenue in most regions of the world," he added.
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