It’s been nearly three months since Facebook announced a platform for building bots that operate inside its Messenger chat app. The idea, Facebook said, was to connect people more directly to businesses and automate their interactions, for informational or commercial purposes. Since then, more than 11,000 bots have been created, Messenger chief David Marcus said in a blog post this morning. And 23,000 more developers have signed up to use a tools provided by Wit.ai, a Facebook acquisition that automates conversational interactions between users and businesses. “We’re looking forward to building a future of amazing Messenger experiences powered by the community of developers, businesses and people who use Messenger every day,” Marcus said.
Developers seem to be reacting to Messenger bots with more enthusiasm than Messenger users, at least so far: Facebook did not release any numbers about their usage. Early users have complained that the initial crop of bots offered a particularly slow way to use the internet — in one case, a weather bot told users it usually responded “within an hour.” Other critics have said typing out responses to bots that only sometimes understand their queries is more frustrating than traditional graphical user interfaces.
DEVELOPERS ARE MORE ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT BOTS THAN USERS ARE
Facebook’s response is that bots will rapidly improve as more developers create them. To that end, Marcus today announced a series of new features for the bot platform. Bots can now respond with GIFs, audio, video, and other files — “to help a brand’s personality come across,” Marcus said. Bots can now link Messenger profiles to customer accounts, such as a bank or online merchant. They’re also getting some new user interface elements: “quick replies” that suggest interactions for the user to help them set their expectations, for one, and a “persistent menu” option for bots that displays available commands at all times so users don’t have to remember them. Users can also now rate bots using a star system and provide feedback directly developers.