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Microsoft today announced it has acquired XOXCO, maker of the Botkit framework that creates conversational bots for team communications chat apps like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco Spark.
XOXCO is also creator of the popular Slack bot Howdy.
And the company is Microsoft’s most recent AI startup acquisition. In September, Microsoft acquired Lobe to help people make deep learning models without learning code, as well as AI development kit Bonsai in June and conversational AI company Semantic Machines in May.
The acquisition is one of several Microsoft AI news stories today, including container support for Azure Cognitive Services, a new template for quick deployment of branded virtual assistants, and automated model selection to help data-knowledgable users of Power BI software use Azure Machine Learning.
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Botkit got its start making bots for Slack and Facebook Messenger and was one of the first recipients of investments made by the Slack Fund. It has now been used to create more than 100,000 bots, CEO Ben Brown told VentureBeat.
XOXCO was created in 2013. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
As part of the acquisition, Brown will join Microsoft and work remotely from Austin, where Howdy is based. No arrangements have been made for incorporating the Howdy platform into Microsoft’s conversational AI offerings.
“In the very beginning, before we launched [Microsoft] Bot Framework, [former Slack director of developer relations] Amir Shevat … actually introduced us to Ben Brown, and so from the very beginning we made sure our stuff worked really well with Botkit,” Microsoft AI and Research VP Lili Cheng told VentureBeat in an interview. “So we’ve known the Slack folks and Ben, and it’s just been really great to work with him. So he’s joining the team, and it will be really great to bring all the tools together — obviously, the GitHub acquisition was also great.”
A key addition Brown brings to Microsoft is his experience with the bot developer community, Cheng said.
“I think we’ve worked together a lot on sharing community and stuff like that, and they’ve been focused a little more on the Slack community and a little bit more on enterprise customers. And they could broaden our reach with developers, so it’s just a really good synergy,” Cheng said.
Brown and Cheng have both hosted bot developer community gatherings. In 2016, Brown hosted Talkabot, a two-day gathering in Austin for bot developers. Brown and Cheng were also members of Botness, a small community of influential stakeholders in the conversational AI space that at one time included Google group product manager Gary Abrams, Automat CEO Andy Mauro, Chris Messina, and Hilary Mason, whose Fast Forward Labs was acquired by Cloudera in 2017.
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