Facebook just validated the bot movement for businesses

David Marcus F8 2016

The battle for our attention has once again shifted to a new technological plane within the mobile space. The industry now is starting to turn its attention away from apps and instead focusing on a new interface to drive “conversational commerce,” a concept first named by social designer Chris Messina. It’s centered around “delivering convenience, personalization, and decision support while people are on the go, with only partial attention to spare,” Messina wrote.

Already there are quite a few services lined up to capitalize on this opportunity, including Path’s Talk, Kik, Telegram, Skype, WeChat, and Line. However, nobody appeared to be a market leader — at least until Facebook entered the scene.

At this year’s F8 developer conference, the social networking company announced it was investing more into the messaging platform it launched in 2014. This means we’ll start to see more businesses using Facebook Messenger to communicate with their customers and the introduction of bots to the platform. So with all of the fanfare heaped on the company this week, has Facebook’s entry resulted in a significant impact on this conversational commerce industry?

“It’s a once-in-a-decade paradigm shift,” said Beerud Sheth, CEO of the bot development firm Gupshup, when asked about the technological trend towards engagement in messaging. He believes it could be as significant as when Apple cofounder Steve Jobs introduced the world to the App Store. Mike Roberts, Kik’s head of messaging and bot experience, described it this way: Messaging is the new browser and bots are the websites.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 11.03.29 AM

Forrester analyst Julie Ask believes that bots will evolve into a mechanism that helps us get stuff done, both on our smart device and via virtual agents like the Amazon Echo. Mobile will move from being a collection of apps and web experiences into “the next stage driven by platform experiences” with incumbent assistants Siri, Cortana, and Google Now already having a leg up. “Brands must embrace these emerging opportunities, as they own too few of their own mobile moments. Bots, and the chat platforms they run on, provide an amazing opportunity for brands to deliver contextual experiences on borrowed mobile moments,” she explained.

Brand chatting: Human or AI?

Many companies, including Facebook, are seeing messaging apps as the new frontier, something that they can build on top of. And if it doesn’t involve interacting with a human agent, then it’s all about bots, software products that have recently seen a renaissance.

Messaging doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario, according to Sonar, a service brands use to participate in the conversational commerce space across multiple apps. Cofounder Neeharika Bhartiya told VentureBeat that bots have to be “laced with people,” requiring human intelligence to teach bots the right messaging to send to customers based on previous responses. Matthew Berman, another Sonar cofounder, believes that bots can be the start of a personalized interaction with a company, but when it comes to more complex queries, a human agent will need to take over.

Screenshots of the experience businesses have on Sonar.

Above: Screenshots of the experience businesses have on Sonar.

Image Credit: Sonar

“The beginning part doesn’t have to be like an IVR (Interactive voice response),” Berman remarked, referencing the computer system traditional call centers use where humans navigate using voice and keypad entries. “Sonar can make it intelligent that you display the appropriate response so it doesn’t look like you’re talking to a machine.”

While conversational commerce is a new way for brands to engage their customers, it’s probably not going to be a major revenue stream for a while. Bhartiya said that the opportunity now lies in marketing services and motivating customers to take action, rather than sponsored posts and making sales right away. It’s about building a great customer experience.

Berman emphasized that when diving into this space, brands should be careful about how they act. He advises avoiding an oversaturation of sponsored conversations, and also figuring out how to message the customers appropriately. “How do you be personable, colloquial, and make your customers think they’re chatting with a friend, not a faceless corporation?” he asks.

“Businesses today don’t get to choose where their customers are. Businesses need to be wherever their customers want them,” said Jeff Lawson, the CEO of Twilio, a cloud communication platform that recently integrated its API into Facebook Messenger.

The role of bots

While messaging apps aren’t new, much of the discussion has centered around bots. But what role does this software play in the conversational commerce space?

To Phil Libin, a partner at General Catalyst, it’s the new application layer: “It’s a product that you interact with without a fixed user interface where you have to push this button, swipe over here, and you don’t have to learn how to use it. You’re just interacting with it conversationally.” His vision about the space is in line with Sheth’s in that bots will cause an upheaval in how we interact with technology — we’re going to turn from applications towards bots.

“A bot is a metaphor,” Sheth said. “What’s truly significant about bots is the interface to the user is through a messaging app. On a small screen (like your phone), you’re opening up a messaging app 100 times a day already, something that’s not being done with any other app. It’s convenient and successful.”

Amazon Echo

There are countless examples of such bots providing services across multiple industries, including commerce, travel and hospitality, and even productivity. While more will likely be a part of messaging apps, companies like Assist have sprouted up to help build the next big bot.

You may be familiar with Assist: It’s a chatbot that can be accessed via SMS or Facebook Messenger that helps you with travel and shopping. But the real company is behind-the-scenes in that it’s akin to the plumbing for the API, commerce, and preference systems.

Shane Mac, Assist’s cofounder and CEO, said that since everyone is already hanging out in messenger apps, bots are being leveraged to enable businesses to reach them. He believes that app fatigue is real — people are tired of downloading apps and then rarely returning to them. “You can do commerce on a platform where people spend their time,” he said. “It’s the Holy Grail.”

Bots have been around for quite some time. In fact, they existed years ago on AOL’s Instant Messaging (AIM) and MSN Messenger in the early 2000s — remember SmarterChild?

“Think about what you do with any website or app and there will be a bot for that,” Sheth said. He also believes that 80 percent of our life behavior will be managed by bots.

And while every service is touting bot support, no one is actually emerging as a winner yet. Ryan Block, cofounder of bot startup Begin, thinks it’ll take some time before a market leader appears — but that it could be Facebook. “Bots are the next natural evolution of human-computer interaction,” he said.

Judging Facebook’s impact

“Facebook’s potential impact on the bot space could be enormous,” Block told us. “I hope they take a big, healthy rip at it, because there just isn’t a ton of consumer interest yet. No one else is playing at their scale right now besides Apple and Google — but that’s OK, because in an abstract way, bots look a lot more like the web than like apps, with many possible paths into bot interactions from across various networks.”

All of the people we spoke with expressed optimism about Facebook’s entry into the space, saying that it validates the market and adds legitimacy. “It aids in awareness,” Sheth remarked. “Facebook is such a prominent company that the media, developer, and brand interest is huge. It can impact a lot of consumers.”

“The entrepreneurial developer community is looking for a new opportunity to meet people where they are on mobile platforms with minimal acquisition costs,” Messina said. “Facebook’s opening of their messenger API last year gives developers license to start experimenting on the platform, and work to define key behaviors between brands and consumers.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 11.06.25 AM

At F8, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed that the combination of Messenger and WhatsApp processes 60 billion messages daily, compared to 20 billion via SMS. So what’s the next logical step for these services beyond chatting with friends? Businesses. And Facebook wants to lead that way.

For the most part, messenger apps have the same mission: Be a communication service. And while Facebook Messenger falls into this category, it’s banking on its platform to transform how we interact with one another outside of email and phone calls with businesses. It’s not the first to go down this road, as WeChat has been doing this for a while and now reportedly counts 10 million business accounts on its service.

Facebook’s entry into the space is significant in that it exposes people around the world to chatbots and artificial intelligence on a scale that other platforms can’t. It also taps into a behavior that those outside of the U.S. are already accustomed to: not using web-based services. Sheth explained that such users tend to only be exposed to what’s on their mobile device.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 2.06.34 PM

Right now, Facebook Messenger only has a few bots on it, including 1-800 FLOWERS, CNN, Shop Spring, and the weather app Poncho. It has also released a framework from which developers can build their own bots and submit it to Facebook for approval. Mac thinks that the careful curation is needed in order to meet the end user’s expectations — if an app gets through that deliberately spams people, then it’ll corrupt the impression and push them away from bots.

“You really have to work at it,” Messina noted. “Slack’s @Slackbot is a great example that clearly was carefully crafted. It sets the tone for entire app’s experience. While content strategy grew in relevance on the web and social media, this ratchets things up to a whole new level. Now your content won’t just be static — it needs to be intuitive and improvisational. To achieve that, you need folks with literary and artistic skills.”

The opening up of messenger apps like Telegram and Facebook Messenger gives brands a way to really connect with users. It’s a consolidation of sorts: People don’t like making phone calls, and emailing a company doesn’t seem to be personal anymore — Uber recently shifted its customer support away from email. The solution now is that since customers are already using messaging, why not use that as the platform — don’t force them to come to you.

“Mobile devices are a really fundamental category, and I don’t see them being disrupted for at least a decade, maybe more,” Block said. “Apple and Google won, so anyone who didn’t win that game is going to be looking ahead for the next big platform opportunity. It turns out conversational products are where billions of people live, and what’s more, WeChat has proven they make a great means of disintermediation.”

The modernization of conversation

During his F8 presentation, David Marcus, Facebook’s vice president of messaging products, spoke about the evolution of how we communicate with businesses. “Before the Internet era, everything was conversational: You had to walk to a store, travel agent, or office and talk to someone to get what you needed. Then came the web, and with it, we traded personalization and conversation for interactions at a much, much larger scale. Then came the mobile era, which initially only offered stripped down versions of web, which eventually led to the app world we currently live in. Apps are truly incredible, and they’ve changed our lives in a profound way.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 1.58.02 PM

“But we download fewer and fewer apps, and we certainly don’t turn on push notifications for new downloaded apps anymore,” he continued. “Meanwhile, [Facebook] Messenger has a lot of great properties: It’s instant, persists identity from all participants at all times, it’s always in context, and all threads are always canonical. That means we’re bringing the best of these interactions that I just shared into one place.”

The consensus from people we’ve spoken with is that although Facebook is a little late to the bot party, its admittance will likely help to accelerate development, progress, and standards among not only the different platforms, but also among brands that want to take advantage of this new era of communication. “Facebook, Kik, Slack, Skype, and others are all playing in what is rapidly emerging as the next big playground for future technology companies,” Messina said.

More information:

Get more stories like this on TwitterFacebook









Facebook just validated the bot movement for businesses

David Marcus F8 2016

The battle for our attention has once again shifted to a new technological plane within the mobile space. The industry now is starting to turn its attention away from apps and instead focusing on a new interface to drive “conversational commerce,” a concept first named by social designer Chris Messina. It’s centered around “delivering convenience, personalization, and decision support while people are on the go, with only partial attention to spare,” Messina wrote.

Already there are quite a few services lined up to capitalize on this opportunity, including Path’s Talk, Kik, Telegram, Skype, WeChat, and Line. However, nobody appeared to be a market leader — at least until Facebook entered the scene.

At this year’s F8 developer conference, the social networking company announced it was investing more into the messaging platform it launched in 2014. This means we’ll start to see more businesses using Facebook Messenger to communicate with their customers and the introduction of bots to the platform. So with all of the fanfare heaped on the company this week, has Facebook’s entry resulted in a significant impact on this conversational commerce industry?

“It’s a once-in-a-decade paradigm shift,” said Beerud Sheth, CEO of the bot development firm Gupshup, when asked about the technological trend towards engagement in messaging. He believes it could be as significant as when Apple cofounder Steve Jobs introduced the world to the App Store. Mike Roberts, Kik’s head of messaging and bot experience, described it this way: Messaging is the new browser and bots are the websites.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 11.03.29 AM

Forrester analyst Julie Ask believes that bots will evolve into a mechanism that helps us get stuff done, both on our smart device and via virtual agents like the Amazon Echo. Mobile will move from being a collection of apps and web experiences into “the next stage driven by platform experiences” with incumbent assistants Siri, Cortana, and Google Now already having a leg up. “Brands must embrace these emerging opportunities, as they own too few of their own mobile moments. Bots, and the chat platforms they run on, provide an amazing opportunity for brands to deliver contextual experiences on borrowed mobile moments,” she explained.

Brand chatting: Human or AI?

Many companies, including Facebook, are seeing messaging apps as the new frontier, something that they can build on top of. And if it doesn’t involve interacting with a human agent, then it’s all about bots, software products that have recently seen a renaissance.

Messaging doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario, according to Sonar, a service brands use to participate in the conversational commerce space across multiple apps. Cofounder Neeharika Bhartiya told VentureBeat that bots have to be “laced with people,” requiring human intelligence to teach bots the right messaging to send to customers based on previous responses. Matthew Berman, another Sonar cofounder, believes that bots can be the start of a personalized interaction with a company, but when it comes to more complex queries, a human agent will need to take over.

Screenshots of the experience businesses have on Sonar.

Above: Screenshots of the experience businesses have on Sonar.

Image Credit: Sonar

“The beginning part doesn’t have to be like an IVR (Interactive voice response),” Berman remarked, referencing the computer system traditional call centers use where humans navigate using voice and keypad entries. “Sonar can make it intelligent that you display the appropriate response so it doesn’t look like you’re talking to a machine.”

While conversational commerce is a new way for brands to engage their customers, it’s probably not going to be a major revenue stream for a while. Bhartiya said that the opportunity now lies in marketing services and motivating customers to take action, rather than sponsored posts and making sales right away. It’s about building a great customer experience.

Berman emphasized that when diving into this space, brands should be careful about how they act. He advises avoiding an oversaturation of sponsored conversations, and also figuring out how to message the customers appropriately. “How do you be personable, colloquial, and make your customers think they’re chatting with a friend, not a faceless corporation?” he asks.

“Businesses today don’t get to choose where their customers are. Businesses need to be wherever their customers want them,” said Jeff Lawson, the CEO of Twilio, a cloud communication platform that recently integrated its API into Facebook Messenger.

The role of bots

While messaging apps aren’t new, much of the discussion has centered around bots. But what role does this software play in the conversational commerce space?

To Phil Libin, a partner at General Catalyst, it’s the new application layer: “It’s a product that you interact with without a fixed user interface where you have to push this button, swipe over here, and you don’t have to learn how to use it. You’re just interacting with it conversationally.” His vision about the space is in line with Sheth’s in that bots will cause an upheaval in how we interact with technology — we’re going to turn from applications towards bots.

“A bot is a metaphor,” Sheth said. “What’s truly significant about bots is the interface to the user is through a messaging app. On a small screen (like your phone), you’re opening up a messaging app 100 times a day already, something that’s not being done with any other app. It’s convenient and successful.”

Amazon Echo

There are countless examples of such bots providing services across multiple industries, including commerce, travel and hospitality, and even productivity. While more will likely be a part of messaging apps, companies like Assist have sprouted up to help build the next big bot.

You may be familiar with Assist: It’s a chatbot that can be accessed via SMS or Facebook Messenger that helps you with travel and shopping. But the real company is behind-the-scenes in that it’s akin to the plumbing for the API, commerce, and preference systems.

Shane Mac, Assist’s cofounder and CEO, said that since everyone is already hanging out in messenger apps, bots are being leveraged to enable businesses to reach them. He believes that app fatigue is real — people are tired of downloading apps and then rarely returning to them. “You can do commerce on a platform where people spend their time,” he said. “It’s the Holy Grail.”

Bots have been around for quite some time. In fact, they existed years ago on AOL’s Instant Messaging (AIM) and MSN Messenger in the early 2000s — remember SmarterChild?

“Think about what you do with any website or app and there will be a bot for that,” Sheth said. He also believes that 80 percent of our life behavior will be managed by bots.

And while every service is touting bot support, no one is actually emerging as a winner yet. Ryan Block, cofounder of bot startup Begin, thinks it’ll take some time before a market leader appears — but that it could be Facebook. “Bots are the next natural evolution of human-computer interaction,” he said.

Judging Facebook’s impact

“Facebook’s potential impact on the bot space could be enormous,” Block told us. “I hope they take a big, healthy rip at it, because there just isn’t a ton of consumer interest yet. No one else is playing at their scale right now besides Apple and Google — but that’s OK, because in an abstract way, bots look a lot more like the web than like apps, with many possible paths into bot interactions from across various networks.”

All of the people we spoke with expressed optimism about Facebook’s entry into the space, saying that it validates the market and adds legitimacy. “It aids in awareness,” Sheth remarked. “Facebook is such a prominent company that the media, developer, and brand interest is huge. It can impact a lot of consumers.”

“The entrepreneurial developer community is looking for a new opportunity to meet people where they are on mobile platforms with minimal acquisition costs,” Messina said. “Facebook’s opening of their messenger API last year gives developers license to start experimenting on the platform, and work to define key behaviors between brands and consumers.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 11.06.25 AM

At F8, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed that the combination of Messenger and WhatsApp processes 60 billion messages daily, compared to 20 billion via SMS. So what’s the next logical step for these services beyond chatting with friends? Businesses. And Facebook wants to lead that way.

For the most part, messenger apps have the same mission: Be a communication service. And while Facebook Messenger falls into this category, it’s banking on its platform to transform how we interact with one another outside of email and phone calls with businesses. It’s not the first to go down this road, as WeChat has been doing this for a while and now reportedly counts 10 million business accounts on its service.

Facebook’s entry into the space is significant in that it exposes people around the world to chatbots and artificial intelligence on a scale that other platforms can’t. It also taps into a behavior that those outside of the U.S. are already accustomed to: not using web-based services. Sheth explained that such users tend to only be exposed to what’s on their mobile device.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 2.06.34 PM

Right now, Facebook Messenger only has a few bots on it, including 1-800 FLOWERS, CNN, Shop Spring, and the weather app Poncho. It has also released a framework from which developers can build their own bots and submit it to Facebook for approval. Mac thinks that the careful curation is needed in order to meet the end user’s expectations — if an app gets through that deliberately spams people, then it’ll corrupt the impression and push them away from bots.

“You really have to work at it,” Messina noted. “Slack’s @Slackbot is a great example that clearly was carefully crafted. It sets the tone for entire app’s experience. While content strategy grew in relevance on the web and social media, this ratchets things up to a whole new level. Now your content won’t just be static — it needs to be intuitive and improvisational. To achieve that, you need folks with literary and artistic skills.”

The opening up of messenger apps like Telegram and Facebook Messenger gives brands a way to really connect with users. It’s a consolidation of sorts: People don’t like making phone calls, and emailing a company doesn’t seem to be personal anymore — Uber recently shifted its customer support away from email. The solution now is that since customers are already using messaging, why not use that as the platform — don’t force them to come to you.

“Mobile devices are a really fundamental category, and I don’t see them being disrupted for at least a decade, maybe more,” Block said. “Apple and Google won, so anyone who didn’t win that game is going to be looking ahead for the next big platform opportunity. It turns out conversational products are where billions of people live, and what’s more, WeChat has proven they make a great means of disintermediation.”

The modernization of conversation

During his F8 presentation, David Marcus, Facebook’s vice president of messaging products, spoke about the evolution of how we communicate with businesses. “Before the Internet era, everything was conversational: You had to walk to a store, travel agent, or office and talk to someone to get what you needed. Then came the web, and with it, we traded personalization and conversation for interactions at a much, much larger scale. Then came the mobile era, which initially only offered stripped down versions of web, which eventually led to the app world we currently live in. Apps are truly incredible, and they’ve changed our lives in a profound way.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 1.58.02 PM

“But we download fewer and fewer apps, and we certainly don’t turn on push notifications for new downloaded apps anymore,” he continued. “Meanwhile, [Facebook] Messenger has a lot of great properties: It’s instant, persists identity from all participants at all times, it’s always in context, and all threads are always canonical. That means we’re bringing the best of these interactions that I just shared into one place.”

The consensus from people we’ve spoken with is that although Facebook is a little late to the bot party, its admittance will likely help to accelerate development, progress, and standards among not only the different platforms, but also among brands that want to take advantage of this new era of communication. “Facebook, Kik, Slack, Skype, and others are all playing in what is rapidly emerging as the next big playground for future technology companies,” Messina said.

More information:

Get more stories like this on TwitterFacebook









Facebook just validated the bot movement for businesses

David Marcus F8 2016

The battle for our attention has once again shifted to a new technological plane within the mobile space. The industry now is starting to turn its attention away from apps and instead focusing on a new interface to drive “conversational commerce,” a concept first named by social designer Chris Messina. It’s centered around “delivering convenience, personalization, and decision support while people are on the go, with only partial attention to spare,” Messina wrote.

Already there are quite a few services lined up to capitalize on this opportunity, including Path’s Talk, Kik, Telegram, Skype, WeChat, and Line. However, nobody appeared to be a market leader — at least until Facebook entered the scene.

At this year’s F8 developer conference, the social networking company announced it was investing more into the messaging platform it launched in 2014. This means we’ll start to see more businesses using Facebook Messenger to communicate with their customers and the introduction of bots to the platform. So with all of the fanfare heaped on the company this week, has Facebook’s entry resulted in a significant impact on this conversational commerce industry?

“It’s a once-in-a-decade paradigm shift,” said Beerud Sheth, CEO of the bot development firm Gupshup, when asked about the technological trend towards engagement in messaging. He believes it could be as significant as when Apple cofounder Steve Jobs introduced the world to the App Store. Mike Roberts, Kik’s head of messaging and bot experience, described it this way: Messaging is the new browser and bots are the websites.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 11.03.29 AM

Forrester analyst Julie Ask believes that bots will evolve into a mechanism that helps us get stuff done, both on our smart device and via virtual agents like the Amazon Echo. Mobile will move from being a collection of apps and web experiences into “the next stage driven by platform experiences” with incumbent assistants Siri, Cortana, and Google Now already having a leg up. “Brands must embrace these emerging opportunities, as they own too few of their own mobile moments. Bots, and the chat platforms they run on, provide an amazing opportunity for brands to deliver contextual experiences on borrowed mobile moments,” she explained.

Brand chatting: Human or AI?

Many companies, including Facebook, are seeing messaging apps as the new frontier, something that they can build on top of. And if it doesn’t involve interacting with a human agent, then it’s all about bots, software products that have recently seen a renaissance.

Messaging doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario, according to Sonar, a service brands use to participate in the conversational commerce space across multiple apps. Cofounder Neeharika Bhartiya told VentureBeat that bots have to be “laced with people,” requiring human intelligence to teach bots the right messaging to send to customers based on previous responses. Matthew Berman, another Sonar cofounder, believes that bots can be the start of a personalized interaction with a company, but when it comes to more complex queries, a human agent will need to take over.

Screenshots of the experience businesses have on Sonar.

Above: Screenshots of the experience businesses have on Sonar.

Image Credit: Sonar

“The beginning part doesn’t have to be like an IVR (Interactive voice response),” Berman remarked, referencing the computer system traditional call centers use where humans navigate using voice and keypad entries. “Sonar can make it intelligent that you display the appropriate response so it doesn’t look like you’re talking to a machine.”

While conversational commerce is a new way for brands to engage their customers, it’s probably not going to be a major revenue stream for a while. Bhartiya said that the opportunity now lies in marketing services and motivating customers to take action, rather than sponsored posts and making sales right away. It’s about building a great customer experience.

Berman emphasized that when diving into this space, brands should be careful about how they act. He advises avoiding an oversaturation of sponsored conversations, and also figuring out how to message the customers appropriately. “How do you be personable, colloquial, and make your customers think they’re chatting with a friend, not a faceless corporation?” he asks.

“Businesses today don’t get to choose where their customers are. Businesses need to be wherever their customers want them,” said Jeff Lawson, the CEO of Twilio, a cloud communication platform that recently integrated its API into Facebook Messenger.

The role of bots

While messaging apps aren’t new, much of the discussion has centered around bots. But what role does this software play in the conversational commerce space?

To Phil Libin, a partner at General Catalyst, it’s the new application layer: “It’s a product that you interact with without a fixed user interface where you have to push this button, swipe over here, and you don’t have to learn how to use it. You’re just interacting with it conversationally.” His vision about the space is in line with Sheth’s in that bots will cause an upheaval in how we interact with technology — we’re going to turn from applications towards bots.

“A bot is a metaphor,” Sheth said. “What’s truly significant about bots is the interface to the user is through a messaging app. On a small screen (like your phone), you’re opening up a messaging app 100 times a day already, something that’s not being done with any other app. It’s convenient and successful.”

Amazon Echo

There are countless examples of such bots providing services across multiple industries, including commerce, travel and hospitality, and even productivity. While more will likely be a part of messaging apps, companies like Assist have sprouted up to help build the next big bot.

You may be familiar with Assist: It’s a chatbot that can be accessed via SMS or Facebook Messenger that helps you with travel and shopping. But the real company is behind-the-scenes in that it’s akin to the plumbing for the API, commerce, and preference systems.

Shane Mac, Assist’s cofounder and CEO, said that since everyone is already hanging out in messenger apps, bots are being leveraged to enable businesses to reach them. He believes that app fatigue is real — people are tired of downloading apps and then rarely returning to them. “You can do commerce on a platform where people spend their time,” he said. “It’s the Holy Grail.”

Bots have been around for quite some time. In fact, they existed years ago on AOL’s Instant Messaging (AIM) and MSN Messenger in the early 2000s — remember SmarterChild?

“Think about what you do with any website or app and there will be a bot for that,” Sheth said. He also believes that 80 percent of our life behavior will be managed by bots.

And while every service is touting bot support, no one is actually emerging as a winner yet. Ryan Block, cofounder of bot startup Begin, thinks it’ll take some time before a market leader appears — but that it could be Facebook. “Bots are the next natural evolution of human-computer interaction,” he said.

Judging Facebook’s impact

“Facebook’s potential impact on the bot space could be enormous,” Block told us. “I hope they take a big, healthy rip at it, because there just isn’t a ton of consumer interest yet. No one else is playing at their scale right now besides Apple and Google — but that’s OK, because in an abstract way, bots look a lot more like the web than like apps, with many possible paths into bot interactions from across various networks.”

All of the people we spoke with expressed optimism about Facebook’s entry into the space, saying that it validates the market and adds legitimacy. “It aids in awareness,” Sheth remarked. “Facebook is such a prominent company that the media, developer, and brand interest is huge. It can impact a lot of consumers.”

“The entrepreneurial developer community is looking for a new opportunity to meet people where they are on mobile platforms with minimal acquisition costs,” Messina said. “Facebook’s opening of their messenger API last year gives developers license to start experimenting on the platform, and work to define key behaviors between brands and consumers.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 11.06.25 AM

At F8, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed that the combination of Messenger and WhatsApp processes 60 billion messages daily, compared to 20 billion via SMS. So what’s the next logical step for these services beyond chatting with friends? Businesses. And Facebook wants to lead that way.

For the most part, messenger apps have the same mission: Be a communication service. And while Facebook Messenger falls into this category, it’s banking on its platform to transform how we interact with one another outside of email and phone calls with businesses. It’s not the first to go down this road, as WeChat has been doing this for a while and now reportedly counts 10 million business accounts on its service.

Facebook’s entry into the space is significant in that it exposes people around the world to chatbots and artificial intelligence on a scale that other platforms can’t. It also taps into a behavior that those outside of the U.S. are already accustomed to: not using web-based services. Sheth explained that such users tend to only be exposed to what’s on their mobile device.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 2.06.34 PM

Right now, Facebook Messenger only has a few bots on it, including 1-800 FLOWERS, CNN, Shop Spring, and the weather app Poncho. It has also released a framework from which developers can build their own bots and submit it to Facebook for approval. Mac thinks that the careful curation is needed in order to meet the end user’s expectations — if an app gets through that deliberately spams people, then it’ll corrupt the impression and push them away from bots.

“You really have to work at it,” Messina noted. “Slack’s @Slackbot is a great example that clearly was carefully crafted. It sets the tone for entire app’s experience. While content strategy grew in relevance on the web and social media, this ratchets things up to a whole new level. Now your content won’t just be static — it needs to be intuitive and improvisational. To achieve that, you need folks with literary and artistic skills.”

The opening up of messenger apps like Telegram and Facebook Messenger gives brands a way to really connect with users. It’s a consolidation of sorts: People don’t like making phone calls, and emailing a company doesn’t seem to be personal anymore — Uber recently shifted its customer support away from email. The solution now is that since customers are already using messaging, why not use that as the platform — don’t force them to come to you.

“Mobile devices are a really fundamental category, and I don’t see them being disrupted for at least a decade, maybe more,” Block said. “Apple and Google won, so anyone who didn’t win that game is going to be looking ahead for the next big platform opportunity. It turns out conversational products are where billions of people live, and what’s more, WeChat has proven they make a great means of disintermediation.”

The modernization of conversation

During his F8 presentation, David Marcus, Facebook’s vice president of messaging products, spoke about the evolution of how we communicate with businesses. “Before the Internet era, everything was conversational: You had to walk to a store, travel agent, or office and talk to someone to get what you needed. Then came the web, and with it, we traded personalization and conversation for interactions at a much, much larger scale. Then came the mobile era, which initially only offered stripped down versions of web, which eventually led to the app world we currently live in. Apps are truly incredible, and they’ve changed our lives in a profound way.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 1.58.02 PM

“But we download fewer and fewer apps, and we certainly don’t turn on push notifications for new downloaded apps anymore,” he continued. “Meanwhile, [Facebook] Messenger has a lot of great properties: It’s instant, persists identity from all participants at all times, it’s always in context, and all threads are always canonical. That means we’re bringing the best of these interactions that I just shared into one place.”

The consensus from people we’ve spoken with is that although Facebook is a little late to the bot party, its admittance will likely help to accelerate development, progress, and standards among not only the different platforms, but also among brands that want to take advantage of this new era of communication. “Facebook, Kik, Slack, Skype, and others are all playing in what is rapidly emerging as the next big playground for future technology companies,” Messina said.

More information:

Get more stories like this on TwitterFacebook









Facebook just validated the bot movement for businesses

David Marcus F8 2016

The battle for our attention has once again shifted to a new technological plane within the mobile space. The industry now is starting to turn its attention away from apps and instead focusing on a new interface to drive “conversational commerce,” a concept first named by social designer Chris Messina. It’s centered around “delivering convenience, personalization, and decision support while people are on the go, with only partial attention to spare,” Messina wrote.

Already there are quite a few services lined up to capitalize on this opportunity, including Path’s Talk, Kik, Telegram, Skype, WeChat, and Line. However, nobody appeared to be a market leader — at least until Facebook entered the scene.

At this year’s F8 developer conference, the social networking company announced it was investing more into the messaging platform it launched in 2014. This means we’ll start to see more businesses using Facebook Messenger to communicate with their customers and the introduction of bots to the platform. So with all of the fanfare heaped on the company this week, has Facebook’s entry resulted in a significant impact on this conversational commerce industry?

“It’s a once-in-a-decade paradigm shift,” said Beerud Sheth, CEO of the bot development firm Gupshup, when asked about the technological trend towards engagement in messaging. He believes it could be as significant as when Apple cofounder Steve Jobs introduced the world to the App Store. Mike Roberts, Kik’s head of messaging and bot experience, described it this way: Messaging is the new browser and bots are the websites.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 11.03.29 AM

Forrester analyst Julie Ask believes that bots will evolve into a mechanism that helps us get stuff done, both on our smart device and via virtual agents like the Amazon Echo. Mobile will move from being a collection of apps and web experiences into “the next stage driven by platform experiences” with incumbent assistants Siri, Cortana, and Google Now already having a leg up. “Brands must embrace these emerging opportunities, as they own too few of their own mobile moments. Bots, and the chat platforms they run on, provide an amazing opportunity for brands to deliver contextual experiences on borrowed mobile moments,” she explained.

Brand chatting: Human or AI?

Many companies, including Facebook, are seeing messaging apps as the new frontier, something that they can build on top of. And if it doesn’t involve interacting with a human agent, then it’s all about bots, software products that have recently seen a renaissance.

Messaging doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario, according to Sonar, a service brands use to participate in the conversational commerce space across multiple apps. Cofounder Neeharika Bhartiya told VentureBeat that bots have to be “laced with people,” requiring human intelligence to teach bots the right messaging to send to customers based on previous responses. Matthew Berman, another Sonar cofounder, believes that bots can be the start of a personalized interaction with a company, but when it comes to more complex queries, a human agent will need to take over.

Screenshots of the experience businesses have on Sonar.

Above: Screenshots of the experience businesses have on Sonar.

Image Credit: Sonar

“The beginning part doesn’t have to be like an IVR (Interactive voice response),” Berman remarked, referencing the computer system traditional call centers use where humans navigate using voice and keypad entries. “Sonar can make it intelligent that you display the appropriate response so it doesn’t look like you’re talking to a machine.”

While conversational commerce is a new way for brands to engage their customers, it’s probably not going to be a major revenue stream for a while. Bhartiya said that the opportunity now lies in marketing services and motivating customers to take action, rather than sponsored posts and making sales right away. It’s about building a great customer experience.

Berman emphasized that when diving into this space, brands should be careful about how they act. He advises avoiding an oversaturation of sponsored conversations, and also figuring out how to message the customers appropriately. “How do you be personable, colloquial, and make your customers think they’re chatting with a friend, not a faceless corporation?” he asks.

“Businesses today don’t get to choose where their customers are. Businesses need to be wherever their customers want them,” said Jeff Lawson, the CEO of Twilio, a cloud communication platform that recently integrated its API into Facebook Messenger.

The role of bots

While messaging apps aren’t new, much of the discussion has centered around bots. But what role does this software play in the conversational commerce space?

To Phil Libin, a partner at General Catalyst, it’s the new application layer: “It’s a product that you interact with without a fixed user interface where you have to push this button, swipe over here, and you don’t have to learn how to use it. You’re just interacting with it conversationally.” His vision about the space is in line with Sheth’s in that bots will cause an upheaval in how we interact with technology — we’re going to turn from applications towards bots.

“A bot is a metaphor,” Sheth said. “What’s truly significant about bots is the interface to the user is through a messaging app. On a small screen (like your phone), you’re opening up a messaging app 100 times a day already, something that’s not being done with any other app. It’s convenient and successful.”

Amazon Echo

There are countless examples of such bots providing services across multiple industries, including commerce, travel and hospitality, and even productivity. While more will likely be a part of messaging apps, companies like Assist have sprouted up to help build the next big bot.

You may be familiar with Assist: It’s a chatbot that can be accessed via SMS or Facebook Messenger that helps you with travel and shopping. But the real company is behind-the-scenes in that it’s akin to the plumbing for the API, commerce, and preference systems.

Shane Mac, Assist’s cofounder and CEO, said that since everyone is already hanging out in messenger apps, bots are being leveraged to enable businesses to reach them. He believes that app fatigue is real — people are tired of downloading apps and then rarely returning to them. “You can do commerce on a platform where people spend their time,” he said. “It’s the Holy Grail.”

Bots have been around for quite some time. In fact, they existed years ago on AOL’s Instant Messaging (AIM) and MSN Messenger in the early 2000s — remember SmarterChild?

“Think about what you do with any website or app and there will be a bot for that,” Sheth said. He also believes that 80 percent of our life behavior will be managed by bots.

And while every service is touting bot support, no one is actually emerging as a winner yet. Ryan Block, cofounder of bot startup Begin, thinks it’ll take some time before a market leader appears — but that it could be Facebook. “Bots are the next natural evolution of human-computer interaction,” he said.

Judging Facebook’s impact

“Facebook’s potential impact on the bot space could be enormous,” Block told us. “I hope they take a big, healthy rip at it, because there just isn’t a ton of consumer interest yet. No one else is playing at their scale right now besides Apple and Google — but that’s OK, because in an abstract way, bots look a lot more like the web than like apps, with many possible paths into bot interactions from across various networks.”

All of the people we spoke with expressed optimism about Facebook’s entry into the space, saying that it validates the market and adds legitimacy. “It aids in awareness,” Sheth remarked. “Facebook is such a prominent company that the media, developer, and brand interest is huge. It can impact a lot of consumers.”

“The entrepreneurial developer community is looking for a new opportunity to meet people where they are on mobile platforms with minimal acquisition costs,” Messina said. “Facebook’s opening of their messenger API last year gives developers license to start experimenting on the platform, and work to define key behaviors between brands and consumers.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 11.06.25 AM

At F8, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed that the combination of Messenger and WhatsApp processes 60 billion messages daily, compared to 20 billion via SMS. So what’s the next logical step for these services beyond chatting with friends? Businesses. And Facebook wants to lead that way.

For the most part, messenger apps have the same mission: Be a communication service. And while Facebook Messenger falls into this category, it’s banking on its platform to transform how we interact with one another outside of email and phone calls with businesses. It’s not the first to go down this road, as WeChat has been doing this for a while and now reportedly counts 10 million business accounts on its service.

Facebook’s entry into the space is significant in that it exposes people around the world to chatbots and artificial intelligence on a scale that other platforms can’t. It also taps into a behavior that those outside of the U.S. are already accustomed to: not using web-based services. Sheth explained that such users tend to only be exposed to what’s on their mobile device.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 2.06.34 PM

Right now, Facebook Messenger only has a few bots on it, including 1-800 FLOWERS, CNN, Shop Spring, and the weather app Poncho. It has also released a framework from which developers can build their own bots and submit it to Facebook for approval. Mac thinks that the careful curation is needed in order to meet the end user’s expectations — if an app gets through that deliberately spams people, then it’ll corrupt the impression and push them away from bots.

“You really have to work at it,” Messina noted. “Slack’s @Slackbot is a great example that clearly was carefully crafted. It sets the tone for entire app’s experience. While content strategy grew in relevance on the web and social media, this ratchets things up to a whole new level. Now your content won’t just be static — it needs to be intuitive and improvisational. To achieve that, you need folks with literary and artistic skills.”

The opening up of messenger apps like Telegram and Facebook Messenger gives brands a way to really connect with users. It’s a consolidation of sorts: People don’t like making phone calls, and emailing a company doesn’t seem to be personal anymore — Uber recently shifted its customer support away from email. The solution now is that since customers are already using messaging, why not use that as the platform — don’t force them to come to you.

“Mobile devices are a really fundamental category, and I don’t see them being disrupted for at least a decade, maybe more,” Block said. “Apple and Google won, so anyone who didn’t win that game is going to be looking ahead for the next big platform opportunity. It turns out conversational products are where billions of people live, and what’s more, WeChat has proven they make a great means of disintermediation.”

The modernization of conversation

During his F8 presentation, David Marcus, Facebook’s vice president of messaging products, spoke about the evolution of how we communicate with businesses. “Before the Internet era, everything was conversational: You had to walk to a store, travel agent, or office and talk to someone to get what you needed. Then came the web, and with it, we traded personalization and conversation for interactions at a much, much larger scale. Then came the mobile era, which initially only offered stripped down versions of web, which eventually led to the app world we currently live in. Apps are truly incredible, and they’ve changed our lives in a profound way.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 1.58.02 PM

“But we download fewer and fewer apps, and we certainly don’t turn on push notifications for new downloaded apps anymore,” he continued. “Meanwhile, [Facebook] Messenger has a lot of great properties: It’s instant, persists identity from all participants at all times, it’s always in context, and all threads are always canonical. That means we’re bringing the best of these interactions that I just shared into one place.”

The consensus from people we’ve spoken with is that although Facebook is a little late to the bot party, its admittance will likely help to accelerate development, progress, and standards among not only the different platforms, but also among brands that want to take advantage of this new era of communication. “Facebook, Kik, Slack, Skype, and others are all playing in what is rapidly emerging as the next big playground for future technology companies,” Messina said.

More information:

Get more stories like this on TwitterFacebook









Facebook just validated the bot movement for businesses

David Marcus F8 2016

The battle for our attention has once again shifted to a new technological plane within the mobile space. The industry now is starting to turn its attention away from apps and instead focusing on a new interface to drive “conversational commerce,” a concept first named by social designer Chris Messina. It’s centered around “delivering convenience, personalization, and decision support while people are on the go, with only partial attention to spare,” Messina wrote.

Already there are quite a few services lined up to capitalize on this opportunity, including Path’s Talk, Kik, Telegram, Skype, WeChat, and Line. However, nobody appeared to be a market leader — at least until Facebook entered the scene.

At this year’s F8 developer conference, the social networking company announced it was investing more into the messaging platform it launched in 2014. This means we’ll start to see more businesses using Facebook Messenger to communicate with their customers and the introduction of bots to the platform. So with all of the fanfare heaped on the company this week, has Facebook’s entry resulted in a significant impact on this conversational commerce industry?

“It’s a once-in-a-decade paradigm shift,” said Beerud Sheth, CEO of the bot development firm Gupshup, when asked about the technological trend towards engagement in messaging. He believes it could be as significant as when Apple cofounder Steve Jobs introduced the world to the App Store. Mike Roberts, Kik’s head of messaging and bot experience, described it this way: Messaging is the new browser and bots are the websites.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 11.03.29 AM

Forrester analyst Julie Ask believes that bots will evolve into a mechanism that helps us get stuff done, both on our smart device and via virtual agents like the Amazon Echo. Mobile will move from being a collection of apps and web experiences into “the next stage driven by platform experiences” with incumbent assistants Siri, Cortana, and Google Now already having a leg up. “Brands must embrace these emerging opportunities, as they own too few of their own mobile moments. Bots, and the chat platforms they run on, provide an amazing opportunity for brands to deliver contextual experiences on borrowed mobile moments,” she explained.

Brand chatting: Human or AI?

Many companies, including Facebook, are seeing messaging apps as the new frontier, something that they can build on top of. And if it doesn’t involve interacting with a human agent, then it’s all about bots, software products that have recently seen a renaissance.

Messaging doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario, according to Sonar, a service brands use to participate in the conversational commerce space across multiple apps. Cofounder Neeharika Bhartiya told VentureBeat that bots have to be “laced with people,” requiring human intelligence to teach bots the right messaging to send to customers based on previous responses. Matthew Berman, another Sonar cofounder, believes that bots can be the start of a personalized interaction with a company, but when it comes to more complex queries, a human agent will need to take over.

Screenshots of the experience businesses have on Sonar.

Above: Screenshots of the experience businesses have on Sonar.

Image Credit: Sonar

“The beginning part doesn’t have to be like an IVR (Interactive voice response),” Berman remarked, referencing the computer system traditional call centers use where humans navigate using voice and keypad entries. “Sonar can make it intelligent that you display the appropriate response so it doesn’t look like you’re talking to a machine.”

While conversational commerce is a new way for brands to engage their customers, it’s probably not going to be a major revenue stream for a while. Bhartiya said that the opportunity now lies in marketing services and motivating customers to take action, rather than sponsored posts and making sales right away. It’s about building a great customer experience.

Berman emphasized that when diving into this space, brands should be careful about how they act. He advises avoiding an oversaturation of sponsored conversations, and also figuring out how to message the customers appropriately. “How do you be personable, colloquial, and make your customers think they’re chatting with a friend, not a faceless corporation?” he asks.

“Businesses today don’t get to choose where their customers are. Businesses need to be wherever their customers want them,” said Jeff Lawson, the CEO of Twilio, a cloud communication platform that recently integrated its API into Facebook Messenger.

The role of bots

While messaging apps aren’t new, much of the discussion has centered around bots. But what role does this software play in the conversational commerce space?

To Phil Libin, a partner at General Catalyst, it’s the new application layer: “It’s a product that you interact with without a fixed user interface where you have to push this button, swipe over here, and you don’t have to learn how to use it. You’re just interacting with it conversationally.” His vision about the space is in line with Sheth’s in that bots will cause an upheaval in how we interact with technology — we’re going to turn from applications towards bots.

“A bot is a metaphor,” Sheth said. “What’s truly significant about bots is the interface to the user is through a messaging app. On a small screen (like your phone), you’re opening up a messaging app 100 times a day already, something that’s not being done with any other app. It’s convenient and successful.”

Amazon Echo

There are countless examples of such bots providing services across multiple industries, including commerce, travel and hospitality, and even productivity. While more will likely be a part of messaging apps, companies like Assist have sprouted up to help build the next big bot.

You may be familiar with Assist: It’s a chatbot that can be accessed via SMS or Facebook Messenger that helps you with travel and shopping. But the real company is behind-the-scenes in that it’s akin to the plumbing for the API, commerce, and preference systems.

Shane Mac, Assist’s cofounder and CEO, said that since everyone is already hanging out in messenger apps, bots are being leveraged to enable businesses to reach them. He believes that app fatigue is real — people are tired of downloading apps and then rarely returning to them. “You can do commerce on a platform where people spend their time,” he said. “It’s the Holy Grail.”

Bots have been around for quite some time. In fact, they existed years ago on AOL’s Instant Messaging (AIM) and MSN Messenger in the early 2000s — remember SmarterChild?

“Think about what you do with any website or app and there will be a bot for that,” Sheth said. He also believes that 80 percent of our life behavior will be managed by bots.

And while every service is touting bot support, no one is actually emerging as a winner yet. Ryan Block, cofounder of bot startup Begin, thinks it’ll take some time before a market leader appears — but that it could be Facebook. “Bots are the next natural evolution of human-computer interaction,” he said.

Judging Facebook’s impact

“Facebook’s potential impact on the bot space could be enormous,” Block told us. “I hope they take a big, healthy rip at it, because there just isn’t a ton of consumer interest yet. No one else is playing at their scale right now besides Apple and Google — but that’s OK, because in an abstract way, bots look a lot more like the web than like apps, with many possible paths into bot interactions from across various networks.”

All of the people we spoke with expressed optimism about Facebook’s entry into the space, saying that it validates the market and adds legitimacy. “It aids in awareness,” Sheth remarked. “Facebook is such a prominent company that the media, developer, and brand interest is huge. It can impact a lot of consumers.”

“The entrepreneurial developer community is looking for a new opportunity to meet people where they are on mobile platforms with minimal acquisition costs,” Messina said. “Facebook’s opening of their messenger API last year gives developers license to start experimenting on the platform, and work to define key behaviors between brands and consumers.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 11.06.25 AM

At F8, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed that the combination of Messenger and WhatsApp processes 60 billion messages daily, compared to 20 billion via SMS. So what’s the next logical step for these services beyond chatting with friends? Businesses. And Facebook wants to lead that way.

For the most part, messenger apps have the same mission: Be a communication service. And while Facebook Messenger falls into this category, it’s banking on its platform to transform how we interact with one another outside of email and phone calls with businesses. It’s not the first to go down this road, as WeChat has been doing this for a while and now reportedly counts 10 million business accounts on its service.

Facebook’s entry into the space is significant in that it exposes people around the world to chatbots and artificial intelligence on a scale that other platforms can’t. It also taps into a behavior that those outside of the U.S. are already accustomed to: not using web-based services. Sheth explained that such users tend to only be exposed to what’s on their mobile device.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 2.06.34 PM

Right now, Facebook Messenger only has a few bots on it, including 1-800 FLOWERS, CNN, Shop Spring, and the weather app Poncho. It has also released a framework from which developers can build their own bots and submit it to Facebook for approval. Mac thinks that the careful curation is needed in order to meet the end user’s expectations — if an app gets through that deliberately spams people, then it’ll corrupt the impression and push them away from bots.

“You really have to work at it,” Messina noted. “Slack’s @Slackbot is a great example that clearly was carefully crafted. It sets the tone for entire app’s experience. While content strategy grew in relevance on the web and social media, this ratchets things up to a whole new level. Now your content won’t just be static — it needs to be intuitive and improvisational. To achieve that, you need folks with literary and artistic skills.”

The opening up of messenger apps like Telegram and Facebook Messenger gives brands a way to really connect with users. It’s a consolidation of sorts: People don’t like making phone calls, and emailing a company doesn’t seem to be personal anymore — Uber recently shifted its customer support away from email. The solution now is that since customers are already using messaging, why not use that as the platform — don’t force them to come to you.

“Mobile devices are a really fundamental category, and I don’t see them being disrupted for at least a decade, maybe more,” Block said. “Apple and Google won, so anyone who didn’t win that game is going to be looking ahead for the next big platform opportunity. It turns out conversational products are where billions of people live, and what’s more, WeChat has proven they make a great means of disintermediation.”

The modernization of conversation

During his F8 presentation, David Marcus, Facebook’s vice president of messaging products, spoke about the evolution of how we communicate with businesses. “Before the Internet era, everything was conversational: You had to walk to a store, travel agent, or office and talk to someone to get what you needed. Then came the web, and with it, we traded personalization and conversation for interactions at a much, much larger scale. Then came the mobile era, which initially only offered stripped down versions of web, which eventually led to the app world we currently live in. Apps are truly incredible, and they’ve changed our lives in a profound way.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 1.58.02 PM

“But we download fewer and fewer apps, and we certainly don’t turn on push notifications for new downloaded apps anymore,” he continued. “Meanwhile, [Facebook] Messenger has a lot of great properties: It’s instant, persists identity from all participants at all times, it’s always in context, and all threads are always canonical. That means we’re bringing the best of these interactions that I just shared into one place.”

The consensus from people we’ve spoken with is that although Facebook is a little late to the bot party, its admittance will likely help to accelerate development, progress, and standards among not only the different platforms, but also among brands that want to take advantage of this new era of communication. “Facebook, Kik, Slack, Skype, and others are all playing in what is rapidly emerging as the next big playground for future technology companies,” Messina said.

More information:

Get more stories like this on TwitterFacebook









Facebook just validated the bot movement for businesses

David Marcus F8 2016

The battle for our attention has once again shifted to a new technological plane within the mobile space. The industry now is starting to turn its attention away from apps and instead focusing on a new interface to drive “conversational commerce,” a concept first named by social designer Chris Messina. It’s centered around “delivering convenience, personalization, and decision support while people are on the go, with only partial attention to spare,” Messina wrote.

Already there are quite a few services lined up to capitalize on this opportunity, including Path’s Talk, Kik, Telegram, Skype, WeChat, and Line. However, nobody appeared to be a market leader — at least until Facebook entered the scene.

At this year’s F8 developer conference, the social networking company announced it was investing more into the messaging platform it launched in 2014. This means we’ll start to see more businesses using Facebook Messenger to communicate with their customers and the introduction of bots to the platform. So with all of the fanfare heaped on the company this week, has Facebook’s entry resulted in a significant impact on this conversational commerce industry?

“It’s a once-in-a-decade paradigm shift,” said Beerud Sheth, CEO of the bot development firm Gupshup, when asked about the technological trend towards engagement in messaging. He believes it could be as significant as when Apple cofounder Steve Jobs introduced the world to the App Store. Mike Roberts, Kik’s head of messaging and bot experience, described it this way: Messaging is the new browser and bots are the websites.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 11.03.29 AM

Forrester analyst Julie Ask believes that bots will evolve into a mechanism that helps us get stuff done, both on our smart device and via virtual agents like the Amazon Echo. Mobile will move from being a collection of apps and web experiences into “the next stage driven by platform experiences” with incumbent assistants Siri, Cortana, and Google Now already having a leg up. “Brands must embrace these emerging opportunities, as they own too few of their own mobile moments. Bots, and the chat platforms they run on, provide an amazing opportunity for brands to deliver contextual experiences on borrowed mobile moments,” she explained.

Brand chatting: Human or AI?

Many companies, including Facebook, are seeing messaging apps as the new frontier, something that they can build on top of. And if it doesn’t involve interacting with a human agent, then it’s all about bots, software products that have recently seen a renaissance.

Messaging doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario, according to Sonar, a service brands use to participate in the conversational commerce space across multiple apps. Cofounder Neeharika Bhartiya told VentureBeat that bots have to be “laced with people,” requiring human intelligence to teach bots the right messaging to send to customers based on previous responses. Matthew Berman, another Sonar cofounder, believes that bots can be the start of a personalized interaction with a company, but when it comes to more complex queries, a human agent will need to take over.

Screenshots of the experience businesses have on Sonar.

Above: Screenshots of the experience businesses have on Sonar.

Image Credit: Sonar

“The beginning part doesn’t have to be like an IVR (Interactive voice response),” Berman remarked, referencing the computer system traditional call centers use where humans navigate using voice and keypad entries. “Sonar can make it intelligent that you display the appropriate response so it doesn’t look like you’re talking to a machine.”

While conversational commerce is a new way for brands to engage their customers, it’s probably not going to be a major revenue stream for a while. Bhartiya said that the opportunity now lies in marketing services and motivating customers to take action, rather than sponsored posts and making sales right away. It’s about building a great customer experience.

Berman emphasized that when diving into this space, brands should be careful about how they act. He advises avoiding an oversaturation of sponsored conversations, and also figuring out how to message the customers appropriately. “How do you be personable, colloquial, and make your customers think they’re chatting with a friend, not a faceless corporation?” he asks.

“Businesses today don’t get to choose where their customers are. Businesses need to be wherever their customers want them,” said Jeff Lawson, the CEO of Twilio, a cloud communication platform that recently integrated its API into Facebook Messenger.

The role of bots

While messaging apps aren’t new, much of the discussion has centered around bots. But what role does this software play in the conversational commerce space?

To Phil Libin, a partner at General Catalyst, it’s the new application layer: “It’s a product that you interact with without a fixed user interface where you have to push this button, swipe over here, and you don’t have to learn how to use it. You’re just interacting with it conversationally.” His vision about the space is in line with Sheth’s in that bots will cause an upheaval in how we interact with technology — we’re going to turn from applications towards bots.

“A bot is a metaphor,” Sheth said. “What’s truly significant about bots is the interface to the user is through a messaging app. On a small screen (like your phone), you’re opening up a messaging app 100 times a day already, something that’s not being done with any other app. It’s convenient and successful.”

Amazon Echo

There are countless examples of such bots providing services across multiple industries, including commerce, travel and hospitality, and even productivity. While more will likely be a part of messaging apps, companies like Assist have sprouted up to help build the next big bot.

You may be familiar with Assist: It’s a chatbot that can be accessed via SMS or Facebook Messenger that helps you with travel and shopping. But the real company is behind-the-scenes in that it’s akin to the plumbing for the API, commerce, and preference systems.

Shane Mac, Assist’s cofounder and CEO, said that since everyone is already hanging out in messenger apps, bots are being leveraged to enable businesses to reach them. He believes that app fatigue is real — people are tired of downloading apps and then rarely returning to them. “You can do commerce on a platform where people spend their time,” he said. “It’s the Holy Grail.”

Bots have been around for quite some time. In fact, they existed years ago on AOL’s Instant Messaging (AIM) and MSN Messenger in the early 2000s — remember SmarterChild?

“Think about what you do with any website or app and there will be a bot for that,” Sheth said. He also believes that 80 percent of our life behavior will be managed by bots.

And while every service is touting bot support, no one is actually emerging as a winner yet. Ryan Block, cofounder of bot startup Begin, thinks it’ll take some time before a market leader appears — but that it could be Facebook. “Bots are the next natural evolution of human-computer interaction,” he said.

Judging Facebook’s impact

“Facebook’s potential impact on the bot space could be enormous,” Block told us. “I hope they take a big, healthy rip at it, because there just isn’t a ton of consumer interest yet. No one else is playing at their scale right now besides Apple and Google — but that’s OK, because in an abstract way, bots look a lot more like the web than like apps, with many possible paths into bot interactions from across various networks.”

All of the people we spoke with expressed optimism about Facebook’s entry into the space, saying that it validates the market and adds legitimacy. “It aids in awareness,” Sheth remarked. “Facebook is such a prominent company that the media, developer, and brand interest is huge. It can impact a lot of consumers.”

“The entrepreneurial developer community is looking for a new opportunity to meet people where they are on mobile platforms with minimal acquisition costs,” Messina said. “Facebook’s opening of their messenger API last year gives developers license to start experimenting on the platform, and work to define key behaviors between brands and consumers.”

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At F8, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed that the combination of Messenger and WhatsApp processes 60 billion messages daily, compared to 20 billion via SMS. So what’s the next logical step for these services beyond chatting with friends? Businesses. And Facebook wants to lead that way.

For the most part, messenger apps have the same mission: Be a communication service. And while Facebook Messenger falls into this category, it’s banking on its platform to transform how we interact with one another outside of email and phone calls with businesses. It’s not the first to go down this road, as WeChat has been doing this for a while and now reportedly counts 10 million business accounts on its service.

Facebook’s entry into the space is significant in that it exposes people around the world to chatbots and artificial intelligence on a scale that other platforms can’t. It also taps into a behavior that those outside of the U.S. are already accustomed to: not using web-based services. Sheth explained that such users tend to only be exposed to what’s on their mobile device.

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Right now, Facebook Messenger only has a few bots on it, including 1-800 FLOWERS, CNN, Shop Spring, and the weather app Poncho. It has also released a framework from which developers can build their own bots and submit it to Facebook for approval. Mac thinks that the careful curation is needed in order to meet the end user’s expectations — if an app gets through that deliberately spams people, then it’ll corrupt the impression and push them away from bots.

“You really have to work at it,” Messina noted. “Slack’s @Slackbot is a great example that clearly was carefully crafted. It sets the tone for entire app’s experience. While content strategy grew in relevance on the web and social media, this ratchets things up to a whole new level. Now your content won’t just be static — it needs to be intuitive and improvisational. To achieve that, you need folks with literary and artistic skills.”

The opening up of messenger apps like Telegram and Facebook Messenger gives brands a way to really connect with users. It’s a consolidation of sorts: People don’t like making phone calls, and emailing a company doesn’t seem to be personal anymore — Uber recently shifted its customer support away from email. The solution now is that since customers are already using messaging, why not use that as the platform — don’t force them to come to you.

“Mobile devices are a really fundamental category, and I don’t see them being disrupted for at least a decade, maybe more,” Block said. “Apple and Google won, so anyone who didn’t win that game is going to be looking ahead for the next big platform opportunity. It turns out conversational products are where billions of people live, and what’s more, WeChat has proven they make a great means of disintermediation.”

The modernization of conversation

During his F8 presentation, David Marcus, Facebook’s vice president of messaging products, spoke about the evolution of how we communicate with businesses. “Before the Internet era, everything was conversational: You had to walk to a store, travel agent, or office and talk to someone to get what you needed. Then came the web, and with it, we traded personalization and conversation for interactions at a much, much larger scale. Then came the mobile era, which initially only offered stripped down versions of web, which eventually led to the app world we currently live in. Apps are truly incredible, and they’ve changed our lives in a profound way.”

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“But we download fewer and fewer apps, and we certainly don’t turn on push notifications for new downloaded apps anymore,” he continued. “Meanwhile, [Facebook] Messenger has a lot of great properties: It’s instant, persists identity from all participants at all times, it’s always in context, and all threads are always canonical. That means we’re bringing the best of these interactions that I just shared into one place.”

The consensus from people we’ve spoken with is that although Facebook is a little late to the bot party, its admittance will likely help to accelerate development, progress, and standards among not only the different platforms, but also among brands that want to take advantage of this new era of communication. “Facebook, Kik, Slack, Skype, and others are all playing in what is rapidly emerging as the next big playground for future technology companies,” Messina said.

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Instagram rolling out new channels to show you videos you might like

Instagram Cake

Instagram is rolling out a way for you to discover videos on its iOS and Android app. The Facebook-owned company announced that it has added video channels within its Explore section that will surface those videos you might like. This update is only available to those in the U.S. but the company plans to release this worldwide “soon.”

Instagram video channels in explore

Video has become a major focus for Instagram, just like with its parent company. Over time, it has expanded the length of time users can record videos from 15 seconds to a minute, added filters, rolled out view counts, and even debuted Twitter Moment-like video channels around major events like Halloween and the World Cup.

Instagram says that these video channels won’t affect how the Explore tab works — it’ll adjust to your preferences and show you the content that it thinks you’ll enjoy. Videos that are featured will also follow the same algorithm. There may also be “featured” channels that Instagram said will be filled with videos on specific topics.

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Vine now lets you automatically play all videos in a channel

An image of Vine's mobile app and its website.

Vine has added a new button to channels that allows you to watch every video back-to-back without having to manually scroll through individual posts. This “watch” button appears next to the follow button on a channel and performs the same functionality as the “Play All” button that YouTube offers.

This update is available for both iOS and Android.

Apps like Vine, Snapchat, and even Facebook have invested an effort into getting you to watch more videos and one solution is this “watch” button. While each clip is only six-seconds long, it might be enticing enough that you’d want to know what other videos that creator has done. And this can certainly benefit Vine stars that put a lot of their resources into the Twitter-owned property. What’s more, if you have a series of videos, having a “watch” feature could help share that story with viewers.

With this “watch” button, could we eventually see a mini-series appear on Vine with six-second episodes that you can watch from beginning to end just by having it automatically go from one clip to the next?

This is the latest option Vine has added to give viewers greater control over their viewing preferences. The app also includes a way to sort clips by oldest to newest or vice versa, and what’s popular.

While auto-playing videos, if you want to re-watch it over and over again, just tap and hold on the screen.

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Snapchat now lets you animate emojis within videos

Snapchat

For anyone who loves to add emojis to video clips on Snapchat, the company behind the ephemeral messaging app has released an update that will make things more exciting. The feature is rolling out today for those on Android and will allow you to make emojis move, rotate, and scale automatically with the video. An iOS release is expected “very shortly.”

Emoji stickers until now have been stationary on the screen, meaning that no matter what was happening on the video, it would remain in that fixed spot on your mobile device. Now when you film a video, place the emoji wherever you want in the snap, press down on it, and attach the emoji to get it to stick.

Here’s a couple of examples showcasing the update:

Although it may seem like a minor update, this has the potential to make videos more creative. After all, a stationary smiley face doesn’t really look that good if the body it’s supposed to be “attached” to keeps moving around. Now, the video can look more polished, which in turn can lead to more views, something that Snapchat can use to appeal to advertisers and strengthen its position against rival Facebook.

You’ll need to update your app in order to get this capability.


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Max Levchin’s Affirm raises $100 million to expand beyond point-of-sale financing

Max Levchin

Affirm has raised $100 million in equity funding that the financial technology company will use to develop what it calls “direct-to-consumer” products. The round was led by Founders Fund and includes participation from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Spark Capital, Khosla Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Jefferies, and others. The company declined to provide its valuation.

It’s worth noting that this is an equity round, which is contrary to the previous round which included some debt. The company told VentureBeat that it has plans to evolve its offerings, such as new ways to get funds right from the palm of your hands via a mobile app instead of point of sale, and also three new partnerships that it plans to announce next month.

Investments will also be made in building up the number of merchants that currently support Affirm, as well as increasing the company’s capacity to distribute loans.

Founded by PayPal cofounder Max Levchin, Affirm seeks to uproot the financial lending industry. It currently operates at point of sale systems in more than 700 merchant locations around the U.S., underwriting loans in real-time to people using just data like their first and last name, date of birth, and the last four digits of their social security number. It’s available as a payment method, online, and in stores, using technology and analytics as a means of evaluating someone beyond just looking at their FICO score.

The service bills itself as being more transparent that the bank you go to, telling you exactly how much you owe, when it’s due, and more — it’s all in the interest of the user. Affirm doesn’t charge any compounded interest or late fees. It makes its money with simple interest. Recipients make simple payments to settle their accounts.

“I’m building what I hope will be the next generation consumer bank,” Levchin said in an interview. He stated that his company’s vision has been to build “an aspirational truly loved financial institution for everyone. Most large financial institutions don’t enjoy much love or admiration by their own customers, they’ve settled on ways to make money that’s not aligned with their customers.”

After four years, Levchin seems content with where Affirm is at right now in terms of progress. He’s also not thinking about taking the company public. When asked about whether he fears incumbent competing with him, he quipped that it wasn’t possible due to the financial implications and other corporate issues that would be at play, but would be happy if it did: “If Affirm causes the industry to change and stop overcharging and making money on late fees, I would welcome that.”

Right now Affirm is servicing those in the U.S., but there are aspirations to expand internationally. However, Levchin says that there’s “plenty to do” still in the country.

To date, the company has raised approximately $425 million in debt and equity funding.

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