Facebook will Reveal New Chatbots at F8

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A new class of group bots is coming and will be revealed by Facebook at its F8 conference. Apparently, these bots will work inside Messenger group chats and will be informing users of real-time news, like the progress of sports games, deliveries by e-commerce and alike. The details about this feature are coming from up to three sources familiar with its development.

Facebook is known to be working with some of the top chatbot makers in their haste to prepare for the launch of the newest feature. They’re even open up APIs to allow new developers to start helping out by building group bots, too. Facebook representatives have refused to comment on this and said instead that they don’t comment on “rumors or speculation. Still, several sources claim that this is coming.

The way these bots are supposed to work is by reporting progress on the things that interest the group that has “employed” it. For example, a group of football fans could add a sports bot that will report score changes or similar important details that could be of interest to its “employers”. Food delivery bots for a group of coworkers is another example of its use.

Facebook Messenger already has sports and food-delivery bots, and soon, they could be equipped to keep entire groups informed on their topic of interest.

There are two big problems with the Messenger bot platform that could appear along with these bots.

First, the behavior of the bots. The term “chatbot” might be a bit misleading, for they will be more of “information bots”. The experience will be different than the good old one-on-one bot conversation. Problems like poor understanding of questions and unripened AI tech disappointed many of the Messenger’s users.

David Marcus, Facebook’s head of Messenger, said that “The problem was it got really overhyped, very, very quickly. The basic capabilities we provided at the time weren’t good enough to basically replace traditional app interfaces and experiences.” This time, however, it is expected that several conversation partners might take the pressure off, and give the bots the opportunity to serve a specific purpose, instead of being the other conversationalist.

The second problem is that their existence in group chats might lead to a viral growth mechanism for bots, which don’t really have easy discovery channels.

So far, if users wanted to talk to the bot, they had to know its exact name and type it into the Messenger’s search bots. With no native way of bot-browsing, many of the less known bot services never got to be known to the users. The only ways to deal with this would be to give bots some really catchy names that will stay in users’ memory or allow them to initiate a conversation with a bot through a Facebook News Feed ad.

With the introduction of group bots, one user could add a bot to the conversation and expose its existence to the other members of the conversation. That way, the audience could be increased and the bot popularity could create more business, which in turn might attract higher-profile developers and brands to build them.

It’s still unclear how these problems will be dealt with, perhaps by adding a bot suggester or a store of some sort. The announcement of this might also be expected at the F8 conference on April 18th and 19th in San Jose.

Even though truly conversational bots will eventually appear, Facebook knows that the smart thing to do is to refocus on group bot tech that’ll solve today’s needs.