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Facebook launches “Agents On Messenger” platform with chatbots

TechCrunch TechCrunch 12/04/2016 Josh Constine

Facebook will now allow businesses to deliver automated customer support, ecommerce guidance, content, and interactive experiences through “Agents on Messenger”, Facebook’s term for chatbots. By providing utility through its huge developer and business ecosystem, Facebook could boost loyalty with Messenger, one-up SMS, and keep up chat competitors like Kik, Line and Telegram that have their own bot platforms.

This confirms TechCrunch’s scoops from February that Facebook was working with chatbot developers, and last week that the program would launch at F8.

Facebook announced a slew of chatbot partnerships with developers who got early access, like 1-800 Flowers, so you can order flowers by just sending its Messenger agent a friend’s name. Or CNN could send you a “daily digest” of stories that match your interests, and skip the topics you don’t care about.

Zuckerberg explained that with AI and natural language processing combined with hman help, people will be able to talk to Messenger agents just like they talk to friends.

Beyond just text, chatbots will be able to respond with structured messages that include images, links, and call to action buttons. These could let users make a restaurant reservation, review an ecommerce order, and more.

Chatbots have suddenly become the biggest thing in tech. They unlock the ability to provide personalized, interactive communication akin to talking to a human customer service or sales rep, but at scale for much cheaper than call centers.

A conservative estimate is that chatbots could replace 1-800 numbers, offering more comfortable customer support experiences without the hassle of synchronous phone conversations, hold times, and annoying phone trees.

But if Agents On Messenger and other chatbot platforms thrive, they could redefine how businesses sell products and services. Instead wandering around an app, a chatbot could ask your criteria and surface relevant things to buy. Rather than sifting through tons of content on a news site, a chatbot could learn what you like a deliver personal digests and suggestions.

Currently, Facebook has been keeping its acquisition WhatsApp as a cleaner messaging experience while experimenting with content and commerce on its own chat app. But Agents On Messenger succeeds, Facebook could potentially allow chatbots on WhatsApp, which currently shuts them down.

Facebook sure isn’t the only chatbot game in town, but because of Messenger’s 900 million user reach, its vast connections with advertisers, and a healthy developer ecosystem built over years, it might provide the most attractive platform on which to run them. Businesses focus where the biggest number of customers are, and it doesn’t get bigger Facebook.

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