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Facebook opens bot development on Messenger; are apps irrelevant?


Facebook has opened its Messenger Send/Receive API that supports bot development on its chat platform to all developers, the company announced at the F8 conference. The company had launched the API unannounced to let some developers build bots in Messenger for shopping, booking travel etc. in January, after allowing its users to book an Uber cab from Messenger itself in December.

The API can be used to provide various kinds of bots on Messenger, including for weather, traffic updates, shopping receipts, shipping notifications and live automated messages etc., which users can access by interacting with services that provide them. Other than sending and receiving text, the API can also communicate images and ‘bubbles’ containing various calls-to-action. All developers can now access the API and its documentation to build apps, but will still require to get an approval from Facebook before the apps go live.

Facebook had acquired Wit.ai in January last year, a startup that creates and API for building voice activated interfaces. Facebook will also offer this API to developers for building bots that can interpret natural language communication. This feature will use machine learning techniques to get better over time.

Facebook M: Note that in August, Facebook announced the testing of a new personal assistant service called M, powered by artificial intelligence and supervised by humans. The company claimed the assistant would be able to purchase items, get gifts delivered, book restaurants and travel arrangements, set appointments etc.

Rise of the bots: A number of services have been opening their chat apps to bot development. Last week, Kik, the messaging app, rolled out a bot store with 16 bots including from Vine, The Weather Channel etc. A month before, Outbrain had launched chat bots for Telegram, Kik and Slack. Telegram seems to have a host of bots built for it, one from Engadget as well.

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A Wired story from October 2015 highlights the number of publications using bots to generate news. In India, media startup FactorDaily also employs a news bot called Regina, which stores links shared in Slack and can apparently crack Star Wars jokes. Similarly, TechCrunch launched an artificial intelligence news bot on Telegram, powered by Chatfuel.

The new app paradigm: Chat bots can make apps increasingly irrelevant, and make services platform agnostic as far as the OS goes. Users can already order food over chat (Facebook M), check the weather, play games like chess, get the latest news, order a cab etc. They also make using different services easier. Instead of having to navigate different apps and varied interfaces, users can simply chat using a familiar messenger to avail services from different companies.

The new API should offer developers a lot of freedom in what other services they can build, like video streaming, package tracking, bill receipts etc., making apps even more irrelevant. Chat apps are also some of the most used apps across iOS and Android. If one can eventually stream music from Gaana, video from Netflix, book a movie ticket, call a cab, order some food, by simply asking over a chat app, what is the need for a separate app?

This is similar to what the desktop/laptop industry went through when browsers became more important as a platform, replacing a lot of desktop software. Platform specific software still exists, however, most of the work carried out by users is done through browsers, with the base OS & installed software being mostly irrelevant factors.

Also read: Microsoft takes down its AI chatbot which turned evil under human influence

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