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article imageFacebook thinks Messenger can replace the Yellow Pages

By James Walker     Apr 19, 2017 in Technology
Facebook has announced the second generation of its Messenger bot platform, giving developers new tools to create intelligent services on Messenger. The company said it wants Messenger to replace the Yellow Pages, connecting you straight to businesses.
Facebook discussed the growth of Messenger bots during the opening keynote of its ongoing F8 developers conference yesterday. Although bots have been given a mixed reception by users, Facebook said Messenger Platform has become a "thriving channel." It's now aiming to step up the momentum with new features aimed to get everyone using bots.
Most prominently for the Messenger app, Facebook is launching a new "Discover" tab that will highlight recently used and popular bots. There's also a search bar to let you find integrations with services you already use.
The contents of Discover will be curated to showcase the best bots. By having them featured in a dedicated section of the app, Facebook's evidently intending to boost bots' exposure and convince more users to give them a try.
Facebook has also developed a new way to bring bots and business conversations into group chats. The company's Chat Extensions system allows everyone in a group to talk to a bot. This capability is again designed to grow the platform: if one user invokes a bot in a group chat, the other participants could start using it too. Facebook said Chat Extensions will allow people to "virally share" popular bots.
Behind the scenes, the bot platform itself is getting a set of smart capabilities to streamline current pinch points. Messenger's upcoming "hand-over protocol" will allow businesses to transfer users between different bots, such as a primary shopping assistant and a customer service helpline.
Facebook's also giving Page owners the option to enable bot responses for their page. If a small business is receiving more messages than it can handle, a bot can take responsibility for managing simple queries such as business hours and contact details. Businesses are able to define and add to the information offered by the bot.
Mark Zuckerberg announcing Facebook augmented reality features
Mark Zuckerberg announcing Facebook augmented reality features
Combined, Messenger's new features are meant to indicate Facebook's commitment to getting the world to endorse bots. The company is pitching bots as a way to simplify currently cumbersome experiences. By unifying bots, businesses and friends, Facebook wants Messenger to be a single point of reference for your life. In its words, it's a "social living room."
"We think of Messenger as being like the new social living room for the world, where people can hang out, share, chat, play games or buy things, while still being able to reach nearly everyone, wherever they are," said Facebook. "We now think we are combining two tools of the past — the telephone directory (the way we used to find people) with the Yellow Pages (the way we used to find businesses)."
Whether people actually need or want a social living room doesn’t seem to be a consideration for Facebook. It's continuing to rapidly expand Messenger with more features. The company will need to be careful not to alienate users though, particularly by introducing emerging technological concepts like bots before they're widely known.
With Messenger's scope rapidly expanding, Facebook also risks breaking separation of concerns by bringing businesses into an app formerly reserved for close friends and family. The company is treading a potentially hazardous path, although so far there's no sign of users being overwhelmed. Messenger passed 1.2 billion active users last week, another notable milestone for the app.
More about Facebook, Messenger, facebook messenger, Bots, f8 2017
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