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Facebook’s new Messenger menus could mean the end of chatting with chatbots

Why it matters to you

Facebook is giving bot makers the ability to ditch the chat element from chatbots by replacing the text input field in Messenger with a new menu filled with responses. But where's the fun in that?

When’s the last time you had a conversation with a Facebook chatbot? If you had to take a moment to think of an answer, it probably wasn’t recently, if ever. Facebook is coming to the realization that despite Messenger bots having been around for almost a year, people may still be ignoring them.

In an effort to change how users approach bots, the company announced a bunch of new developer features. Chief among the updates for bot-makers is the “persistent menu” function, which essentially presents all of a bot’s features instantaneously before the conversation begins. Developers even have the option to ditch the composer field for text inputs altogether, replacing it with the new menu.

Facebook describes the chatbots update as “a simple Messenger experience without conversational capabilities.” What this basically means is that chatting and responding to bots (in the way you would to a friend on Messenger) could soon be a thing of the past. Instead, the experience will be akin to browsing a website (clicking on links to find relevant items and info). In fact, the new menu interactions that involve users tapping on a series of options, eventually lead to an in-app web page.

That begs the question: what did chatbots get wrong about chatting? After all, the idea behind chatbots has a lot of potential: a conversational user interface that can help with everything from booking flights, to buying clothes, and checking the news and weather. The execution, however, has been far from perfect.

Let’s face it — having a conversation with a chatbot never really felt similar to chatting with a person. Some bombard you with messages, when you’re not really even sure what they do. Others can’t deal with the simplest of responses, forcing you to revert to the automated inputs they understand.

This isn’t a new criticism either. Since their launch, chatbots have been greeted with a mixed reception, mainly due to their lack of conversational abilities. In the words of Digital Trends writer Justin Pot: “ … humans shouldn’t have to learn to speak with bots. Bots should learn to speak with humans. Until that happens, apps and websites don’t have a lot to worry about.”

The latest Messenger Platform update could mean that users won’t have to learn how to speak with chatbots. That could streamline the experience, making it easier but hardly exciting. Let’s hope there’s still room for playful experimentation when it comes to our automated friends. Otherwise we may have to start referring to them as bots rather than chatbots.

You can learn all about the new features Facebook announced as part of its Messenger Platform 1.4 update here.