Facebook chat bots might be the future, but right now they feel like the past

facebook messenger bots text based interface chat poncho
Apps are old school. Bots are the future. “Conversational UIs” will replace the web.

That, in a nutshell, is the thinking behind a developer gold rush happening right now. Facebook announced bots for Messenger just three months ago, and already there are 11,000 bots hoping to reach the nearly one billion Facebook Messenger users.

But are these bots worth using right now? Can talking to a script really feel like talking to a person, to the point where it becomes useful? And can such a chat conversation really be easier than just opening a website, or an app, to get something done?

To find out, we tried opening some apps and comparing them to their chat bot counterparts in Facebook Messenger. Here’s what we found.

Poncho gives daily weather updates, but can’t deal with follow up questions

We weren’t sure which bot to start chatting with, and Poncho looked friendly enough. So we started there.

Poncho is a weather app best known for sending chipper daily weather updates over SMS or an iPhone app. If you start chatting with Poncho over Messenger, he’ll helpfully ask where you live, and what time you’d like to get daily one-line weather summaries.

poncho-conversation

The updates are simple enough, and easy to read from a notification without every actually opening Messenger. It doesn’t have a lot of detail, which is why you might want to ask a follow-up question. This is where you might get in trouble.

Poncho can only parse a few phrases, and you need to state them exactly. You can get a list of phrases by typing “help,” which is basically the master command for bots at this point. Poncho will give you a quick list of questions he can answer, like “do I need sunglasses?”

These questions all work. But part of conversation is follow-up questions, and that’s where Poncho goes legs-up. You can ask when it’s raining. Just don’t ask when the rain will stop.

poncho-follow-up

Instead, you should follow the “help” instructions and type “hourly forecast.” Do this, and Poncho will give you hour-by-hour cards you can page through.

poncho-forcast

So, Poncho as a bot isn’t really conversational. It’s responsive to a particular set of commands. And if you want to talk to Poncho, you need to memorize what those commands are. Stray too far, and he’ll get confused.

The app’s daily updates are worthwhile. There’s not a lot of detail, but that’s kind of the point. It’s supposed to be simple. But the updates don’t do anything that a standard app couldn’t.

Mobile

Dozens of bite-sized features add up to a feast in Android 9.0 Pie

Google’s latest version of Android is here, and it’s called Android 9 Pie. We’ve been using it for the past few months on a Google Pixel to see how this flavor stacks up.
Mobile

Master your iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max with our favorite tips and tricks

If you're one of the lucky folks that managed to snag an iPhone XS or XS Max, you may be wondering how to use your new phone in a post-home button world. Here are a few of our favorite iPhone XS tips and tricks to get you started.
Mobile

The best weather apps for Android will keep you dry no matter where you go

You may not be able to change the weather, but you can at least be prepared for it. Check out our guide to the best weather apps for Android, so you'll always know what to expect when you step out the front door.
Mobile

Our favorite tips and tricks to help you master your Samsung Galaxy Tab S4

Apple's not the only game in town when it comes to productivity tablets. Samsung's Galaxy Tab S4 has all the features you'll need to get work done. Here are a few of our favorite tips and tricks for the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4.
Social Media

New to Snapchat? Follow our guide and go from newbie to pro

Whether you're a Snapchat addict or a newbie, our detailed Snapchat guide will help you become a pro in no time. Find out how to get started, spice up your snaps, chat, send money, and carry out a host of other useful actions.
Social Media

How to run a free background check

There are plenty of legitimate reasons for carrying out a background check, and not all of them are creepy. Here are several methods that allow you to run a thorough background check on someone online, whether you need to vet a potential…
Smart Home

Restaurants may soon have chefs who know all about you before you walk in the door

At Seattle’s Addo, chef Eric Rivera gives pop-up-style restaurants a permanent home, and he leverages everything from Instagram to a ticketing service to bring in customers.
Social Media

Twitter makes it easier to find and watch live broadcasts

Twitter is making further efforts to promote livestreams and broadcasts on its service. Rolling out globally, live video broadcasts from accounts that you follow will now appear at the top of your timeline.
Photography

Instagram’s shopping stickers for businesses see wide rollout

As the Stories format continues to grow, Instagram is allowing users to shop the items inside a Stories photo or video. Instagram recently expanded stickers that let people shop inside a Story by tapping on the sticker.
Social Media

Facebook is paying cash rewards if you find vulnerabilities in third-party apps

As part of efforts to put the Cambridge Analytica scandal and related issues behind it, Facebook said this week it's expanding its bug bounty program to include third-party apps and websites that could potentially misuse its data.
Social Media

A lot less clutter! Twitter relaunches purely chronological timeline

If you still miss the reverse-chronological timeline that Twitter ditched two years ago and you're fed up with all of the extra algorithmic tweets appearing in your feed, there's now a way to return it to how it used to be.
Computing

Facebook appears set on crafting custom silicon for augmented reality devices

Facebook's latest job postings are seeking engineers and developers for custom augmented reality chipsets, and seem to support speculation that the company is looking to produce AR glasses.
Social Media

How to turn off Snapchat’s location-based Snap Map

Thanks to an opt-in feature added last year, Snapchat may be sharing your location with friends whenever you open it. Here, we'll walk you through how to turn off said feature off and regain some peace of mind.
Social Media

How to send money on Facebook

In case you weren't already aware, you can now use Facebook Messenger to send or request money, which will allow you to skirt the fees oft-associated with services like Venmo. Here's how to use it.
1 of 3