During his keynote address Monday at the Facebook F8 conference for developers, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the audience, "You never have to call 1-800-Flowers again."
He wasn't forecasting the end of 1-800-Flowers, but the rise of chatbots. Messenger plays a prominent role in the future of Facebook, and chatbots play a prominent role in the future of Messenger. The social media company announced this week it was launching a platform for developers to create chatbots that live on Messenger.
A number of bots are already up and running. You have to hunt a little to find some of them, as not all will appear when you search for them in the Messenger platform. The ones you do find may have some quirks. Still, the bots offer a glimpse of future changes in how we search for information and interface with businesses.
Taken together, you might say the bots provide regular folks with an experience akin to using Facebook's virtual assistant M, which has left the select group of users granted access breathlessly impressed. That said, these bots provide an experience that, compared with M, can best be described as "less": less seamless, less accurate, less capable, etc. For the curious and the patient, here are five bots you can try now.
Want to keep up on the latest headlines? Contact the CNN bot and ask what's going on in the world. Caution: CNN's bot takes a little patience. (Actually, it appears all the bots on Messenger require patience.) The bot appears to have trouble understanding complete sentences and answering questions. The easiest way to use this bot appears to be by typing a few words describing some sort of news topic the bot can easily retrieve. Try "latest news" or just "Trump."
Want to order flowers? Order them on this bot. When I typed "hi" to 1-800-Flowers.com, the bot immediately responded, "Tess, please enter the delivery address for these flowers. Include apartment # if needed." 1-800-Flowers' bot means business.
Ride-hailing startup Uber announced back in December it was rolling out a feature on Facebook Messenger that allows users to order cars from any Messenger conversation by tapping a car icon. You can also message directly with Uber to order a car. Of course, you have to be logged in to your Uber account through Messenger for the feature to work.
Sure provides restaurant recommendations and currently can recommend restaurants in Copenhagen and some neighborhoods of San Francisco. This bot comes off as fairly human in its responses, throwing emojis at the ends of sentences and writing natural-sounding sentence fragments. When I asked the bot to confirm that the only city it had in my area was San Francisco, it said, "Yes for now only in SF." But as with other bots on the platform, expect to find yourself constantly rephrasing and repeating questions.
5. Hi Poncho
Poncho is a weathercat. What is a weathercat? "Purrrrdon me?" Poncho doesn't understand the question. This bot tells you the weather, and you can program it to send weather alerts in the morning and evening. Poncho can also update you about allergen levels and whether the weather might make your hair frizzy. Poncho stumbles with any questions that do not explicitly and specifically pertain to weather. Al Roker, your job is safe for now.