First Bots on Facebook Messenger are Like First “Social Shopping” Pages on Facebook

At the company’s yearly developer conference f8, Facebook announced the new bot platform on top of Messenger, which is now used by 900 million people on a monthly basis.

More on the new APIs at Facebooks developer blog:

Send/Receive API. This new capability includes the ability to send and receive text, images, and rich bubbles with CTAs.

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 call to actions, 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”.

Integration is out-of-the-box already good, as is to be expected:

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 Usernames. 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.

There will inevitably be coming new dynamics with bot/messaging platforms like Messenger, Telegram (which just released a new version of its bot platform), WhatsApp, and WeChat (which relies mainly on web views, as in websites accessed with the browser inside WeChat.).

But these early days can be misleading. Already we see some bot/messaging solutions that feel not like new ways of shopping but more like trying to cram a GUI experience into a terminal prompt.

Facebook also listed Zalando as one of the partners developing a bot for the messenger platform. I have been told by Zalando press that this fashion “concierge” bot is still in an internal testing phase and far from a definite release date.

It is indeed early days. Take Spring’s shopping bot for example, which gets heavily promoted on Facebook’s Messenger platform site as one bot example, called “a personal shopping assistant on Messenger”. The experience this bot brings to customers is not entirely convincing:

Spring's personal shopping assistant on Messenger

This feels like back in the days when the first online retailers started building shopping fan pages on Facebook, recreating the main online shops inside the social network. As social shopping is not about building a parallel shop on a social network, but rather about using the dynamics that can come by having people connected to each other, something similar can be said about Messenger and messaging / bot platforms:

What can a (mobile) messaging environment genuinely bring to the (shopping) table?

Certainly more than just the environment for a “curated” narrow path to the same product selection that can be found at the old-fashioned online shop, one presumes.

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