Despite gripes about the usefulness of Facebook chatbots, “tens of thousands” of developers are building them, Messenger’s head of product Stan Chudnovsky revealed onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt NY. And, 5,000 Shopify merchants are now distributing order confirmations and shipping alerts via Messenger, showing e-commerce companies are eager to reach the app’s nearly one billion users.
You can watch Chudnovsky’s full panel with TechCrunch’s Facebook reporter Josh Constine here:
These bots are getting pretty chatty. One of the more recent high-profile chatbots introduced on the Messenger platform, Activision’s Call of Duty bot, saw engagement soar to nearly 6 million messaged exchanged between users in its first week of existence.
The problem is that if bots get spammy, they could drown out people’s friends in Messenger. That might make them less likely to check their phones every time Messenger buzzes. Luckily, Chudnovsky says Messenger is considering different ways to protect users from bot spam, including delayed or bulk delivery, different sounds or vibration patterns or not sending notifications at all.
Ideally, developers would be able to self-police their spam rather than Facebook stepping in. Right now, they have little insight into how their bots are performing. But Chudnovsky confirmed that Facebook is hard at work building a full-fledged Messenger chatbot analytics system. That could show them which messages are annoying users, leading them to block or ditch a bot, and which calls to action or messaging schedules are most engaging.
As Messenger has opened the platform to better foster user-to-business communications, Constine inquired whether chatbots could dehumanize Messenger.
Chudnovsky discussed how, in fact, the current communication networks between businesses and customers are overly robotic, with touch-tone phone trees and hold times. He says there’s definitely potential for the Messenger chatbot platform to improve those connections.
“If we can make it easier for people to communicate with businesses, that seems like a massive opportunity,” Chudnovsky responded.
One thing clear from the talk is that there’s rarely such thing as a minor launch on Messenger. Chudnovsky told Constine that the platform’s group-calling feature had garnered nearly 11 million minutes of group VoIP audio calling in its first 24 hours, without much promotion.
Despite touting the successes of group features he offered a pithy “no comment” when asked if group video calling was coming next, but then relented that, “We agree that would be an excellent experience.”