Written by Nameer Khan and Edited by Chantelle Menezes. Originally published on Chatbots Magazine.

F8 2016 marked the advent of chatbots, and Facebook Messenger witnessed the creation of 30,000 bots within 6 months of the announcement. I am sure everyone is fairly familiar with the idea of bots and how they are touted as the “Future of Communication.”

In recent times, we have seen both sides of the chatbot phenomen — failed attempts by a few global brands to create an ‘AI’ powered chat experience, and successful ones by some others leading to millions in revenue. Yesterday, at the landmark F8 2017, Facebook launched Messenger 2.0 with the impetus to encourage brands to further enable & enhance chat support.

The steady rise and adoption of chatbots has helped Facebook Messenger increase interactions between businesses and people. With a staggering reach of 1.2 billion users, there are 2 billion messages exchanged between brands and their customers on a monthly basis. It is safe to say that people are warming up to the idea of using Messenger over other platforms to interact directly with brands as highlighted in the infographic below.

Source: Source: F8 Conference 2017

The first day of the conference ended with the keynote of David Marcus, VP of Facebook Messaging Products:

“If you direct your existing or future customers to Messenger instead of directing them to a mobile web page or an app, you will definitely see lift, if you build the right experience.”

The basic tenet of this premise stems from the break in the user’s journey, created by redirecting him/her to an app or a website (avg. 40% drop offafter Facebook ads redirect to third party platforms). If a business can target, address, and acquire potential clients on a single platform, it already has the recipe for success in place, and further efforts to drive traffic to a website or app would be futile.

Prior to the release of Messenger 2.0, there was an air of excitement as well as uncertainty about chatbots.

1.Is it practical to build your own AI from scratch?
2.How will users find bots on Facebook?
3.Does every chatbot need to be customized? Or does one size fit all?

Messenger 2.0 has released features that unravel the answers to a myriad of questions everyone was asking.

Should AI be built from scratch?

Building a core artificial intelligence engine which can be deployed for use cases such as augmented reality and NLP is next to impossible.
Yesterday, Facebook announced several developments in terms of AI.

First off, let’s talk about AR studio. It is one small step for augmented reality, and one giant leap for developers. Developers, for the first time, will have access to a mainstream platform to integrate AR with their projects.

Smart Replies, another new feature debuted at F8, will help small business owners focus on their businesses by letting the bot automate responses to the most frequently asked questions, such as business hours, directions and contact details based on the information provided on their Facebook page(s).

Facebook’s ‘M’ is on track to taking AI to the next level by understanding user intent and context from natural language, and thus, effectively recommending relevant results, suggestions, bots, and tools.

These tools are not easy to build. They need Terabytes of data, years of data crunching, heavy duty computing systems, best machine learning algorithms and top talent around the globe.
Yeah, you guessed it right, this is something only tech giants such as Facebook and Google can do justice to.

What does that mean for chatbot makers? Stop investing in AI?
No, we need to utilise these world class platforms provided to us by global leaders. These platforms are not solutions, but means to reach the same. In markets like India, with it’s complexity by region, industry and demographics, it is imperative that localization and customization is built on top of these platforms offered by Google and Facebook.

That’s exactly what we do at my firm, Mpower.chat. We have proprietary NLP (Natural Language Processing) tools and platforms aimed at creating training sets in controlled environments, especially when there is limited user interaction data that is actionable. We then club this with leading NLP platforms to deliver top-notch results.

How will users find bots on Facebook?

Facebook is focusing on making Messenger easier to navigate. It’s adding a new feature called ‘Discover’, through which you can look for different Messenger tools, bots and brands. There’s also a new tab for games alone.

Does every chatbot need to be customized?

In my opinion, use cases such as customer support and purchasing products will mostly be similar across businesses, especially in the same industry.
Chatbots are an additional touch point in the customer journey. Not only do businesses need to build new experiences such as NLP for chatbots, but they also need to be able to recreate the existing experiences present on web and mobile applications directly into the chatbot.

At Mpower.chat we have created a WordPress like infrastructure. Our core chat engine works like a central CMS, and added features such as cart architecture, online payment & lead management systems are used as plugins to create added functionalities.

CHAT EXTENSIONS: THE WOW FACTOR

“Currently experiences with chatbots and businesses are mainly single player and one-on-one,” Marcus explained. “We want to change that with chat extensions by empowering developers to bring their experiences in existing one-on-one and group chats.”

With the example of Spotify, Marcus showed us how the true potential of chatbots can be unleashed in peer-to-peer and group chats, by creating business and developer-made experiences such as suggesting and playing live music within the chat itself.

Chatbots are thought of as humans interacting with bots. But think of a possibility when humans are interacting with humans and bots are assisting and enhancing their conversations.

So, what are bots? Human-like computers?

In the simplest terms, you could say they are AI based applications to automate processes. Today, chatbots are available on messaging platforms, websites and personal assistants such as Siri and Google Home. But tomorrow, as technology grows, they will be part of Augmented Reality and perhaps, human-like personas in Virtual Reality.

The infographic below, showcases the growing success of chatbots across industries. There is enough evidence to show businesses that introducing automation through chatbots leads to significant improvements in customer support, sales and employee productivity.

Source: Source: F8 Conference 2017

Well, the proof is in the pudding or in this case, the numbers. A far cry from when Messenger’s journey first began, it has now come a long way since being the bashful new kid on the block, putting all rumours and second-guessers to rest. Messenger has made it clear that their renewed focus is towards bringing communities together, and it shows — with truly phenomenal advancements like making an everyday smartphone camera the first vehicle for widespread AR.

Though these advancements seem like Facebook has reached for the stars, in truth, we know we’ve just scratched the surface (as is the case with all newly constructed technologies). Still, it’s a giant first step towards actually realizing some pretty big VR, AR, and AI goals. What we have only been able to fantasize about, and watch in sci fi movies, is that much closer to reality (nerds, rejoice!).

Let’s see if Facebook can become to the world, what WeChat is to China or (if I had to take a guess), if they go above and beyond. One thing’s for sure, it’s a great time to be alive and in the Bot Business!

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