Facebook Messenger is up to at least 800 million monthly users, Facebook's vice president of messaging products, David Marcus, reveals in a new blog post. But how many of your new Messenger friends are actual people?
Facebook has given an unknown number of developers access to a new chat SDK that will allow them to construct "bots" within Facebook Messenger. Said artificial entities could chat with users directly, and send them just about anything you could otherwise receive on Messenger: Images, maps, and prices. With the latter, a Facebook user could even make purchases by talking to one of these bots on Messenger, thanks to the app's fairly new payment-sending system.
You can try chatting with some right now, in fact. Just fire up Messenger and send a note over to Assist bot—an all-caps "HI," with no comma after it. The Assist bot will reply back (after a bit of a delay, it seems) and inquire just what you want it to help you out with: getting a ride somewhere, getting food, making restaurant reservations, hiring a courier, or getting a haircut (to name a few of the nine options you can pick from). You'll enter a number to pick what you want—which makes the bot a bit less chat-friendly and a bit more like a standard telephone prompt—and Assist will lead you through the process of whatever it is you wanted to do. It's as easy as that (and Assist did give this writer some interesting new restaurants to check out around his current location, based on what's popular on Foursquare).
It's expected that these bots will function similarly to the new transportation options within Messenger, which give you a more fluid conversation with an Uber bot and additional elements you can interact with by tapping on your screen—like setting your destination, picking what kind of Uber you want, and viewing a map.
In his wrap-up, Marcus discusses how Facebook wants Messenger to help you accomplish tasks, not just chat with your friends.