Facebook Messenger has 800 million users, and it’ll need bots to keep them happy

More users, more chat bots
More users, more chat bots
Image: Flickr/Maurizio Pesce
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Facebook Messenger added more than 100 million new users in the last month, according to a Jan. 7 blog post by vice president of messaging products David Marcus.

The social network’s messaging platform has grown quickly, adding 300 million monthly active users over the last 13 months. That puts Messenger on pace to equal the number of users on WhatsApp, the other chat platform owned by Facebook. WhatsApp reported 900 million monthly active users in Sept. 2015.

Marcus’s announcement included a recap of the flurry of new features released on Messenger in 2015, including its artificial intelligence assistant Mintegration with Uber, and ways for third-parties to provide emojis and other content to users. Now, the next step seems to be opening up the platform to outside developers, joining a trend among messaging services.

Besides its AI helper M, Messenger has given some developers a software kit to help create new bots, according to TechCrunch. When contacted by Quartz, Facebook declined to comment on the report. But deepening interactivity is clearly top of mind for Marcus in 2016. “It is so much easier to do everything in one place … rather than downloading apps that you’ll never use again and jumping around from one app to another,” he wrote.

Bots on chat platforms can take several forms, ranging from “inline bots” that can be activated by typing a particular command in the chat box to automated accounts you can interact with, like Assist, which lets you order food and perform other tasks by sending a message to it. And as users become accustomed to executing these kinds of commands through chat, Messenger will have to keep up.

In December, messaging newcomer Slack released a developers’ Botkit and a $80 million pool to fund bots and apps. While Slack has a relatively small user base, reporting 2 million daily active users in Oct. 2015, heavyweight Chinese messaging platform WeChat boasts a similar strategy. The 650 million-strong platform is packed with inhouse and externally provided features that let users pay bills, hail taxis and chat with celebrities without leaving the chat app. Smaller players like Telegram also give coders tools to make bots with.

If these platforms have their way, it looks like we’ll all be spending more time talking to bots in the near future.