Facebook Messenger chatbots have been an enigma since they launched in April. Who needs a CNN bot pushing stories through the Messenger app? Is there anyone who actually wants a sassy Poncho weather bot to banter with them about the climate?
But Stan Chudnovsky, head of product at Facebook Messenger, doesn’t want people to give up on Messenger bots just yet.
“We know where to go, and we know it needs to exist,” Chudnovsky said at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference today. “To figure out how to get there, we need to be out there.”
Josh Constine, editor-at-large for TechCrunch, didn’t let Chudnovsky off so easily though.
“Poncho the weather cat? That thing is so dumb,” Constine said while interviewing Chudnovsky onstage. “It is heart-breakingly annoying to see that you guys put that up as the thing that you say this is what bots should be like.”
Chudnovsky’s response: “Well, I just learned that you don’t like Poncho.”
Facebook’s Messenger bots launched as a “major paradigm shift” in customer-to-business communications. The ultimate goal of the chatbots is to eliminate the on-hold phone call. That’s still the plan, Chudovsky clarified, but the bots had to be released to the public before they can reach full potential.
Take the introduction of apps to the Apple iOS system for example. The first apps, Chudovsky said, were quickly developed and largely useless “beer burping” and “lightsaber noise” apps. Messenger and the people who are building the bots are still “figuring out what the platform allows and doesn’t allow, because we are learning like everyone else.”
The list of things that could improve the Messenger bots is long. There are 11 bots currently available, but unless you are looking to get some flowers on the 1-800 Flowers bot, or figure out exactly what that rash is you’re too nervous to ask your doctor about using the HealthTap bot, there’s not a huge draw. Essentially, all of the apps offer something that can already be found at other places on more native and familiar platforms. Upcoming apps, like one from theScore, don’t look all that groundbreaking, either.
“More things are broken than not when it comes to mobile and communicating with businesses,” Chudnovsky said. Facebook chatbots are no exception, but they can only get better from here.