More than 18,000 Facebook Messenger bots have been created since Mark Zuckerberg opened the platform to developers more than four months ago. But today there is no easy way to search and sort them. There is no single webpage or app to find every bot available for Messenger. There is no Facebook bot store.
Yet people were asking for a Facebook bot store even before Messenger bots existed. Message.io CEO Tom Hadfield called the rumored Facebook bot store “arguably the most consequential event for the tech industry since Apple announced the App Store and iPhone SDK in March 2008.”
Last week VentureBeat visited with Facebook Messenger product manager Seth Rosenberg and asked the question that’s been on everyone’s minds: Where’s the Facebook bot store?
By way of an answer (under the watchful eye of a PR handler), Rosenberg pointed me toward the search bar inside the Facebook Messenger iOS app. Open it on your iPhone and look below the list of recent conversations with friends. One of the first things people see is a small collection of bots.
“We typically feature [bots] based on engagement or retention to show people some of the best examples of bots,” Rosenberg told us.
Among the list of eight showcased by Messenger below the search bar at the time this story was published: neural network-driven photo editing (think Prisma) from Icon8, personal finance bot Trim, Hipmunk for travel, President Obama’s bot, and Yahoo’s weather bot. There are impressive bots among the eight, but that’s still just eight out of 18,000. Why not a ranked list of the most popular bots, or those with the highest levels of engagement, or those that received the highest rating?
If the app ecosystem is any example for the bot ecosystem, and it’s a comparison a lot of bot enthusiasts like to make, now is the right time for developers and Messenger users to demand a Facebook Messenger bot store. The iOS software development kit was first announced in March 2008 and the App Store made its debut roughly four months later. Why hasn’t Facebook followed a similar timeline?
“Our number one priority was to just give it to developers and just help them to create great experiences and help them to promote the bots wherever it makes sense,” Rosenberg said. “Then the next step is once we do have a wide range of great experiences, that’s when we can start surfacing them more in front of people in contextual ways. So yeah, it’s definitely something we care about and we’ll keep investing in.”
In other words, the early bot ecosystem on Messenger has demonstrated some unique use cases and developers are doing amazing things, but the Messenger bot ecosystem isn’t ready for the primetime that is a store.
Not that the App Store is perfect. For instance, the law of big numbers can create its own problem, keeping some apps at the top simply because they’ve been labeled as popular. But the lack of a bot store also prevents developers from identifying the common characteristics of a successful bot — and the public listening to all this bot and AI hype from finding killer bots.
Rosenberg emphasized that, for now, key metrics for Messenger bots are engagement and retention, and their measure is central to which bots get featured. “Does [a bot] impact the overall Messenger experience? Are [people] coming back and using Messenger more because they find more utility in using these bots?” he said.
Other than being served recommended bots in the Messenger search area, other common ways of bot discovery include use of a scan code; people finding “Message us” or “Send to Messenger” buttons on websites, apps, or Facebook pages; and via sharing dedicated links to bots.
Facebook Messenger isn’t the only platform without a single place to find the best bots. Skype only has about 40 bots in its bot directory, and Kik only showcases a little over 100 of more than 20,000 bots made since the Bot Shop opened in April.
Sites like Botwiki and Bot List fill the vacuum today, but they don’t have the raw data — the crowdsourced information that platforms do about which bots perform best, or have been identified as successful, or exist to address unique use cases. Call it a Bot Store, Bot Shop, or something else, but chat platforms and the bot ecosystem in general suffer without a place to find bots. So c’mon, Mark Zuckerberg: Where’s the Facebook bot store?
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