Today at Facebook’s F8 conference, there was a lot of talk about the Messenger app. Lots of praise for it, and its future were given by the presenters. One went so far as to say that thanks to the advancements in Messenger, that this may now be the beginning of a new era.
When Mark Zuckerberg was on the stage, he proudly stated that the Messenger was the fastest-growing app in 2015. He didn’t mention which particular platform this was on, but it’s a safe bet that he was referring to both iOS and Android. Of course, what he didn’t mention is that it was only adopted by so many people because it was a functionality that the company removed from its core app. So yes, it may have been the fastest-growing app, but many people weren’t happy about the move. And I have a feeling that their announcements today are going to prove even less popular.
Over the course of the presentations, it became clear that Messenger is no longer about communicating with your friends and family. After all, there’s not much money to be made from the friendly chats between friends. That’s why Messenger is now going to turn into yet another marketing tool to connect companies and potential customers.
That’s right, much of the presentation was dedicated to the ways that companies can use the Messenger Platform to communicate with their customers. This means everything from getting content delivered, to make purchases, or even trying to get support. As of today, there’s going to be a bot for everything, and it’s going to be right there with all of your other contacts.
One of the first examples that was given was getting the news from CNN. The person opened up a chat with CNN, and had some headlines to choose from. They could then request a summary, or to read the whole article, if they wanted. Sure, this does save you from going to CNN’s page, or using their app, but personally, I don’t see how it’s any more convenient to chat with a bot to get the headlines. I can browse those much more quickly and easily than a bot can try and figure out what I want to see. Overall, a bot like this would probably be pretty harmless, and useless, unless perhaps you’re searching for a particular story, and can’t operate Google.
The next example was ordering flowers through 1-800-Flowers. Mark sent the company page a message, saying that he wanted a bouquet of flowers. He was then given a few options to choose from, and then told the bot where he wanted them sent, and what message he wanted. It looked so smooth and simple. However, the 1-800-flowers website offers many different arrangements. I guess it’s convenient if you don’t really care what you’re getting. You can just choose whatever comes up, and be happy about it. But if you want to actually pick out your flowers and a special arrangement, you’ll still want to go to their website, or download a dedicated app that can show you all of the available options. After all, a messenger chat window is pretty limited.
A similar demonstration was given showing someone buying shoes. This had the exact same problem. Sure, the shoes he wanted happened to be one of the few that popped up. However, you’re not going to browse from a company’s selection of shoes on Messenger. You’re still going to end up on a website, or in another app.
These are all pretty mundane uses for Messenger bots. To me, they appear to be just a step up from completely useless. You’ll waste more time finding the company, and starting a conversation, and then figuring out that you actually need to browse a full site or app. You’re better off just skipping Messenger and actually going to the site or app first.
They did show off one other bot that served a purpose. The bot was Poncho, the weather cat. This bot is supposed to be a cute cat that tells you about the weather. I guess if you want your forecast to be accompanied by messages like “Purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr” then it’s for you. But typing out responses to this cat seems like it would take longer than just swiping down on my phone and looking at the weather forecast that my Weather Channel app provides. With one more tap, I’ve got access to the extended forecast, radar, and more. So it’s no faster or better than what you can already do, but it’s cute, I guess.
So if the bots are all harmless, and somewhat pointless, then what’s there to worry about? Well, as was pointed out during the presentation, no one turns on notifications for new apps that they download. This was early on in the Messenger Platform presentation, and really struck a chord with me. Keep in mind, that this is a presentation aimed at developers and other businesses. And here’s a guy telling you that one reason that you don’t want to rely on your own app is that no one is going to have notifications turned on for it. But do you know what app nearly every user has notifications turned on for? Messenger.
While they dressed up how beneficial these Messenger bots will be for the end user, that’s not what this is about, at all. And that one statement about notifications spelled it out.
A little bit later, after we were shown all of those super-useful bots, another subject was touched on. Retaining and connecting with customers. It would seem that once you’ve used these bots, they can reach back out to you later. Maybe they’ll send you special offers, or ask you what you thought about your last purchase. Now your Messenger inbox is starting to look a lot more like your regular email inbox. Full of junk mail from every website you’ve ever signed up to. Yes, you can block bots. They were quick to point out that feature. However, one would assume that you’ll need to unblock them again, if you want to utilize their services.
I’m only guessing that you have to interact with a bot in order to get on their list. However, it’s entirely possible that if you simply “like” a page, that you may get contacted by a bot from that page, trying to get you to talk to it, and buy something. This part is purely speculation, as nothing was specifically said, but it really would not surprise me.
Something else was mentioned was that companies could match up records of phone numbers in their existing database to Facebook users. So lets say you had signed up somewhere and given your phone number, and said that you were okay with getting some messages. If that same phone number is linked to your Facebook account, that company will be able to find you, and start messaging you with special offers.
The Messenger Platform beta is being kicked off today, and developers now have access to all of the tools necessary to create bots to interact with you. It was said that today may very well be the beginning of a new era, thanks to Messenger. However, I think today will be remembered as the day that Messenger stopped being a tool for communicating with friends and family, and became just another marketing tool.