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Another name to add to the list is Facebook, actually beating its rivals to the punch by launching an army of bots worldwide (for the most part). In fact, Facebook claims that there are 11 000 bots available for its Messenger platform at present.
Unfortunately, its bot efforts, while still in the early stages, are rather poor right now.
It’s like a robot phone call (and not in a good way)
The biggest selling point of the new generation of bots is that they’re supposed to be smarter and learn from you over time.
But most of Facebook’s bots are fundamentally identical to bots of yore (such as MSN Messenger and Mxit), featuring a standard conversation tree system that don’t understand contextual, natural language very well — if at all. It then becomes a case of figuring out the limited number of commands at your disposal (or you get a command list, if you’re lucky).
It’s a far cry from rival bots, as Microsoft claims its bots will use machine learning and a host of other techniques to gradually become smarter and understand natural language.
Thankfully for Facebook, it isn’t standing still on this front. The company recently announced that bot developers will get access to the engine behind Facebook’s M assistant. Will this make for better bots than rivals though?
Microsoft and Google have a lot more invested in natural language processing and machine learning than Facebook, owing to their Cortana and Google Now products. So if anything, we can expect their bots to be a step above Facebook’s current crop. Here’s hoping Facebook surprises us.
What’s the point of having 11 000 bots on your platform if there’s no easy way to view them?
Instead of having a centralised listing (or phone book, if you will) of bots, Messenger requires you to search for bots in the “search” bar within the app. In other words, there’s no native way of discovering interesting bots.
Fortunately, there are third-party websites serving up listings, such as botlist.co and Messenger Chat Bots. But when Skype has a directory of bots, and its bot functionality is still in preview, it’s pretty inexcusable.
Nonetheless, this is another department Facebook needs to tackle if it wants its bots to be a major success (or a success in general).
Bots you should try
Despite these challenges faced by Facebook, there are still a few Messenger bots worth checking out.
These apps are able to give you recommended news stories, or you can search for stories by tag. A rather convenient system, then.
In the mood for something more interactive? Then you’ll be glad to know that classic text adventure Zork is also available on the platform. Granted, you’ll encounter quite a few “I don’t know that word” moments, but it’s still an interesting use for bots.
Need to make something for supper but out of ideas? Well, the Dinner Ideas bot will send ideas to you daily or once a week. If that’s not enough, you can also submit a list of ingredients and it’ll spit out recipes.