Facebook is planning to provide developers with toolkits for customer service chatbots and live chat APIs, according to a few sources that spoke with TechCrunch.
The company will debut the new features at Facebook's F8 conference next week, following in line with a host of recent institutions getting behind chatbot support. Facebook's intentions are to connect its users with businesses via its standalone chat app, Messenger. [Direct Link]
The new program will connect those businesses with Facebook-approved chatbot developers, so instead of needing to navigate the construction of complex automated response systems themselves, they can focus on their company while developers create the chatbot software. TechCrunch acquired a presentation by Facebook aimed at chatbot developers, and it described some of the functionality the automated responses might have.
It details how beyond just text chatbots will be able to respond with what it calls “Structured Messages.” These include a title, image, a description, a URL and calls to action such as visiting a website, viewing an e-commerce order or making a restaurant reservation.
To further encourage the universality of Messenger, the social media company is also hard at work on plug-ins for the app that can be installed on a website's contact page. Facebook's idea is that this would eventually take preference over calling or emailing for questions, linking them out directly to the Messenger app on iOS or Messenger.com on the web.
Going one step beyond automated responses, this would lead to live chat conversations with representatives. So while Facebook would provide the means, each business would still need to find the resources for fully implementing the feature. Other tidbits from the presentation hint at user-targeted advertising in Messenger, a way for Facebook to make money off of the new feature when it rolls out. After paying a fee, advertisers would gain the ability to send targeted messaging ads to users who have already chatted with a business.
The beginning of the steps to Facebook's vision can be seen in a small update to Messenger yesterday, which introduced truncated "Messenger Links" and "Messenger Codes." The update provides businesses with Twitter-like usernames that are easier to remember, and easier to navigate to thanks to links directly from the Facebook page of each business.
Similar to Snapchat, Messenger Codes can be used on a peer-to-peer basis to add a friend on Messenger, but companies will be able to install the RFID feature as advertisements and marketing materials, as well. Users can even search for businesses to chat with directly within the iOS Messenger app, although since none of the APIs are available yet it's on an inconsistent business-to-business basis regarding how helpful the experience will be.
Introducing chatbots into popular messaging apps has become more and more popular, with platforms like Kik and Skype gaining bot features to provide users with interactive chat logs that provide information on the weather, entertainment, or world news. Facebook even launched an airline information bot last week, with limited scope centering on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and providing users with threaded ticket, boarding time, and check-in information directly in Messenger.