More than 900 million people use Facebook Messenger every month to connect with friends, coworkers and family via chat and internet-enabled phone calls. As of this week, you can do more than exchange emoji with with your crew. Facebook has just enabled business-connected bots that will keep you abreast of the latest news headlines, help you order flowers, sort out eBay questions, and so much more.
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What are bots?
If you’re unfamiliar with the term bot, you’re not alone. Short for internet bot or web robot, bots are software applications that perform automated tasks online. If you’ve used an auction website and employed a tool to place last-minute bids for you instead of needing to enter them manually yourself, you’ve already used a bot.
Introducing Facebook bots
Facebook unveiled bots this week, so they’re a relatively new thing in Messenger that has yet to really take off. There are currently 30 company bots available for use, including:
- Bank of America
- Burger King
- Business Insider
- Great Western Railway
- Philz Coffee
- Spark Central
If your favorite business or news outlet isn’t on the list yet, you probably won’t have to wait long. Businesses are scrambling to put together their own bots this week and the list of available bots is expected to grow exponentially even within one week’s time.
So, how do you find Messenger bots?
Here’s the quick rundown on how to find and use bots on Facebook Messenger. Note: At this time, you must use the Messenger app on your iPhone, iPad or Android device.
Step one: Open Recent contacts
Go to your Recent tab in Messenger. You’ll find it at the bottom-left in the Messenger app.
Step two: Tap the search bar
Touch the Search bar on the top of your screen as if you were going to search for a contact.
Step three: Scroll through the available bots
In the center of your screen, between the People section and the Suggested suggestion, will be a category called Bots. You can scroll left to right to see the highlighted bots. You can also use the search bar to find bots you already know exist.
Using a Messenger Bot
Now that you’ve located a bot that interests you, it’s time to get to work. Once you have a particular bot displaying, here’s how you use it.
Step one: Hit Get Started
At the bottom of your display you’ll find a Get Started button. Tap it to begin.
Step two: Do your business
Each bot offers a few different services. As shown above, 1-800-Flowers lets you order flowers or talk to support. If you choose the order option, you’ll be prompted to add a delivery address, then asked a series of questions to determine what type of flowers you want to send and what your budget limits might be.
If you’re wanting to connect with news, like CNN, you’ll be able to view top stories, stories that capture your interests, and even ask CNN a question about a particular topic. Asking for news headlines gives you a large selection of trending news to scroll through, which you can do by moving articles from left to right, and back again. You’ll have the option to read the long form version of any story or get a quick summary.
Word of warning: At this point, bots are virgin territory for Facebook and developers and some bots are so slow as to be almost completely useless. Attempting to shop was a largely frustrating experience, and I was ultimately told I could not check out with the items in my cart, and a representative would contact me within 24-hours to go over my order. That was 36-hours ago.
In addition, bots display only a few items they think will be of interest to you, and many are not spot-on, to put it mildly. When looking for athletic shoes, I was given a choice of five designer sneaker-looking shoes rather than the trail running footwear I needed.
Likewise, I was unable to get a current forecast, future forecast or allergy report for my zip code or the one to which I will be driving this weekend. I was told, however, that boating conditions were not favorable in my city, which only makes sense because, well, there’s still ice on lakes here.
Saying that, some bots do work extremely well. Reading news on CNN was speedy and informative. I was able to scroll headlines and get information much quicker than I would if I’d searched their website or even opened their app.
Bots are a work in progress in Messenger, obviously, but they’re likely here to stay. Check them out for yourself and let us know your experiences, good or bad.