It has been just a little over 6 months since the launch of the Facebook Messenger Bot platform in April 2016. The platform has seen some development and evolution, but so far hasn’t been promising in the sense that there aren’t any “killer apps” on it yet.
I’m somewhat of a seasoned Facebook developer and a Facebook fan. When the Facebook app platform first went live in 2007, I happened to have a chance to work on it right away. (I was working in a small studio that developed web apps for clients, and everybody wanted to create a Facebook app at the time, so I got to get paid doing it. That experience eventually lead me to join Zynga in mid 2008, a pure Facebook games company at the time, and where I worked for the next 6 years.)
Fast forward to mid 2016, the launch of the Facebook Messenger Bot platform. This time around, my job is not in the area of bot development; however I’ve been involved in multiple hobby projects on the platform since day 1, and have seen its changes and trends. Here’s a little compare and contrast of the platforms and the experience so far.
These are my thoughts and not the official stance of Facebook. Here’s what I think Facebook should be aiming for:
Here is what I think Facebook’s learning was from the first time around, and is trying to avoid falling into:
This is what makes me go back and forth when thinking about the success of the Messenger Bot platform:
There may or may not be an official statement from Facebook, but many of us got the impression that Facebook originally did not intend for their apps platform on the web to be games-focused. Utility apps were the big thing in mind and apps like Cities I’ve Visited (eventually acquired by TripAdvisor — one of the only successful apps on the platform that wasn’t a game) was what was in mind.
However, games turned out to be the killer apps and they rolled with it. Facebook Credits was released as a way to monetize the games on the platform, and eventually a whole games portal was built. Along the way, many viral growth channels that were originally designed as lightweight ways for apps to reach out to non-users of the apps, like notifications and feed posts, were changed and nerfed, because they were abused too much. From Facebook’s point of view, it made perfect sense — it made Facebook itself way cleaner and more friendly to use, but from the apps developers point of view, it was devastating as they lost the most effective channels to expose to new users.
The reason I went into this whole story is that I believe that’s what’s driving some of the design decisions on the Messenger Bot platform now:
In the end, this all makes sense from Facebook’s perspective. If those channels were provided, one can see that the platform would very quickly be “polluted” by exactly the sort of apps and games that they are trying to avoid. From their F8 presentations, it’s very clear what type of bots and UX they are going for — flight tickets, flight check-ins, ordering flowers, ordering anything and getting receipts and talking to customer support. None of these are apps/bots where a viral channel would make sense for. Ironically though, this is also why the platform is struggling to gain traction. Let’s face it, there are now reportedly 34,000 bots on the Messenger Bot platform, but none of your friends (who’re not Facebook developers) use any. I’d wager 90% of your friends (outside of tech) don’t even know what bots are or that they exist on Messenger.
A couple of weeks ago, I built an experimental project on the Messenger Bot platform. Taking my learning from a previous failed project I was involved in, and using the new “Share” button feature that was just announced at the time, I decided to see if I could build an app that emulated the success of some of the apps in the original Facebook apps platform.
The idea is simple — mini games that are essentially quick twitch games where you get a high score, and you’re encouraged to share a score to challenge friends to beat your score. The game is Coffee Break (direct Messenger link if you’re on mobile).
The experiment was somewhat of a success, though it didn’t last.
On the night of launch, I posted it to the Bots developer group, Hacker News and Product Hunt. I did not even account for best time of day to post, and just wanted to get it out as a test. It took off on its own. However, it didn’t last.
One of the main things that hurt growth was the amount of drop-off of users who did not even start a game after sending a message to the bot. Game spread via sharing was great at first, but many either did not figure out how to start playing a mini game, or was not interested.
The number of unique users who started any game at all, vs the number of total users who sent at least 1 message to the bot, is roughly around 50%. That means about 50% of users dropped off immediately after engaging with the bot.
From this quick experiment, I had 3 main take-aways:
That about sums it up for my thoughts on the Messenger Bot platform for now! Overall, I’m excited to have a new platform to experiment with. I’m not yet fully convinced that chatbots / conversational UI is ready for the big stage right now with the platform where it is, but I’m optimistic it will get there. Leave your thoughts in the comments and heart the post if you like it!
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