Even Facebook’s VP in charge of Messenger, David Marcus, thinks chatbots were overhyped.
Earlier this year, a flurry of buzz about chatbots engulfed the tech world. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella declared them the future, and Facebook rolled them out on its Messenger platform. Amazon’s Alexa was a certified hit and “conversation as a platform” was thrown around with wild expectation.
But early chat bots were overhyped, and Marcus is the first to admit it. He also says it doesn’t matter in the long run.
“Did it matter for the web or did it matter for apps?” he asked Business Insider at Wired’s Business Conference. “And it was the exact same thing, overhyped in the short term, underhyped over the long run … The first websites were really, really bad, the first apps were really, really bad. If you load one of the first, circa-2008 apps on your phone right now, it’s shocking. The interesting thing is that people have a hard time remembering short periods of time where things were bad in the past, and they tend to always think that technology is the way it is.”
On Facebook’s end, they are working with their business partners to make sure they understand what makes a good bot. “I’m not too stressed about it,” Marcus said. “I think that we’re actually starting to see some really good experiences coming on the platform.” He pointed to the NBA bot that provides highlights and one that tracks your flight progress and lets you share with friends and family.
These are experiences you wouldn’t want to download a whole new app for, but that are useful, he explained, particularly because they are so much better than the mobile web. One growth area Marcus pointed to was payments, which isn’t surprising from the former president of Paypal.
Even though people do a ton of shopping while browsing on mobile, the share of actual checkouts has remained relatively stable since 2012 (around 12%), Marcus said. He sees Messenger being able to fill in the gap.
And the key to kickstarting that, he said, is convenience. Trust is important, but it’s something that builds over time, he says. You can’t just say, “Hey, trust me.” “If you have reasonable amounts of trust, and the experience is much more convenient than the nearest alternative, then you start using it more,” he said. The triumph of convenience can be seen in apps like Venmo, which has been criticised on the safety front, but has seen massive growth.
Messenger bots have to prove that they can be significantly more convenient than the mobile web for experiences you’d never want to go through the process of downloading an app for.