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Facebook unveils a big push into bots at F8

David Marcus
Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images
David Marcus

Messenger CEO David Marcus unveiled what he calls Messenger 2.0 at Facebook's developer conference, F8. Last year at this same conference Marcus unveiled bots on the Messenger platform to automate interactions between businesses and consumers without needing to leave the app. Today, Marcus announced that there are 100,000 bots on the platform, up from 33,000 in September, and 100,000 developers working on the platform. The number of messages sent between consumers and businesses has now hit 2 billion a month.

Marcus said ahead of his on-stage presentation that the goal is for Messenger — which hit 1.2 billion users last week — to be "the new social living room for the world, where people can hang out, share, chat, play games or buy things, while being able to reach nearly everyone, wherever they are."

"Last year we set the foundation to create an ecosystem of developers, learned and iterated our way into finding what works," says Marcus. "Now that we have enough developers and enough businesses responding to messages — 65 million businesses and pages, nearly 20 million of them responding to messages every month — it's about scale and getting those experiences in the hands of the many more people."

The key piece of that is a discover tab for users to browse and find bot experiences. "Right now if you know what you're looking for you can find it through search, but you couldn't browse all the experiences, there hasn't been a way for you to do that," says Marcus. "That's one thing that will change. You as a user will spend more time interacting with brands and services in the next 12 months than the last 12."

Part of that is an announcement that was expected: Extending bots to groups, to enable group chats. Marcus cited the example of a group of friends wanting to collaborate on a playlist for a party; now the group will be able to use Spotify, and eventually Apple Music, to share music directly into a threat, and listen to music without ever leaving the Messenger app.

Messenger's AI assistant, called "M," will play a bigger role as well, making suggestions for everything from sending or requesting payments to scheduling plans. Messenger is also building off the success of games on the platform., saying over 1.5 billion games have been played in the last 90 days, and they're adding features to encourage even more game playing. A click on the games tab will allow users to challenge a friend to a game, and will support games where players take turns, rather than just those where they play simultaneously.

The goal of Facebook — and Messenger — in all these announcements seems to be to make the experience within Messenger so useful and all-encompassing that there's never a reason to swipe away to another app. The more useful Messenger can become for businesses, the more they're likely to invest in their presence on Messenger and its sister apps. Messenger doesn't just want to replace the phone book, it seems to be positioning itself as an alternative to the Internet -- everything you want to do, you can do on the platform.