A month ago, Facebook and Uber unveiled a new feature that lets users summon a car from within Facebook’s Messenger app. Users simply talk to an Uber bot as if it were a friend, and tell it where they want to be picked up and where they want to go. As far as user interfaces go, it’s incredibly simply, and it seems likely we’ll see more companies testing similar designs in the future.
According to a report from TechCrunch, Facebook is giving select third-parties access to development tools that let them build their own bots for Messenger, creating virtual chat partners that can automatically respond to customers’ queries; returning information, images, and even processing payments.
It might sound like Facebook is unwisely encouraging competition to M, its own text-based virtual assistant, but the company has ongoing plans to turn its chat app into a platform for other brands and businesses. This model has already proved successful in Asia, where chat apps can handle everything from booking flights to managing bank accounts, and Facebook has been slowly adding to Messenger’s capabilities over the past year or so, launching features that allow users to chat to businesses directly, exchanging information like delivery times and receipts.
If Facebook can help other companies build bots to handle these sorts of queries, then Messenger can become a home for all sorts of interactions. Brands won’t have to spend money maintaining their own standalone apps, and Facebook gives users another reason to stay logged in.
These new features will be a while coming (a Facebook product manager told TechCrunch that the company was still getting users “used to the idea that you can message more than just people on Messenger”), but in the future, all your online transactions could be carried out via conversations, not clicks.