Face­book lets Mes­sen­ger ‘bots’ tap an­a­lytic smarts

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

Face­book yes­ter­day be­gan let­ting in­ter­ac­tive “bots” in­side its Mes­sen­ger ser­vice tap into an­a­lytic ca­pa­bil­i­ties once re­served for the so­cial net­work, ramp­ing up the po­ten­tial to earn money from e-com­merce. The move comes as Face­book is un­der pres­sure to profit from ser­vices such as Mes­sen­ger, What­sApp and In­sta­gram, hav­ing re­cently told in­vestors it is hit­ting a limit on the num­ber of ads it can pack into the on­line so­cial net­work.

Face­book last week rolled out news feed ads that open into Mes­sen­ger ex­changes, and be­gan let­ting busi­nesses send “spon­sored mes­sages” to users who have in­ter­acted with them be­fore. “Driv­ing peo­ple to a Mes­sen­ger con­ver­sa­tion isn’t enough,” Face­book vice pres­i­dent of mes­sag­ing prod­ucts David Marcus said in an on­line post. “This is where spon­sored mes­sages come in.”

Face­book shares took a hit early this month af­ter the huge so­cial net­work de­liv­ered a block­buster earn­ings re­port but warned that its stun­ning growth pace was set to slow. Although the Cal­i­for­nia group re­ported a surge in profit and rev­enue, it also said it was un­likely to sus­tain that kind of growth in the near fu­ture. Face­book ex­ec­u­tives on an earn­ings call said the so­cial net­work can no longer keep boost­ing the num­ber of ads de­liv­ered with­out harm­ing the user ex­pe­ri­ence.

Bet on Bots

Since they were first an­nounced at Face­book’s an­nual de­vel­oper con­fer­ence in April, more than 30,000 chat­bots have been built with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to act as vir­tual agents for busi­nesses in text ex­changes with cus­tomers. The bots can answer ques­tions, of­fer goods and ser­vices, send re­ceipts or con­firm reser­va­tions. Data gath­ered and pro­vided by the so­cial net­work would in­clude how of­ten peo­ple are trans­ferred to hu­mans at busi­nesses or click through to web­sites to make pur­chases.

An­a­lyt­ics tools can also pro­vide de­mo­graphic in­sights on users based on what peo­ple share pub­licly at the lead­ing so­cial net­work. “These bots are pro­vid­ing new ways for busi­nesses to in­ter­act with their cus­tomers,” Face­book prod­uct man­ager Josh Twist told AFP. “Be­cause we own the Mes­sen­ger plat­form, we can help get an­a­lyt­ics with­out any ef­fort.” Twist stressed that data be­ing made avail­able to busi­nesses came only from in­ter­ac­tions in their own bots, and that any broad in­sights such as be­hav­ior break­downs by de­mo­graph­ics was ag­gre­gated and made anony­mous.

Last year, Face­book made an­a­lyt­ics tools avail­able for apps synched to the so­cial net­work. Pro­vid­ing the in­sights to bots at Face­book-owned Mes­sen­ger moves them out­side the so­cial net­work for the first time. The com­pany could then make money from the mes­sag­ing ser­vice by act­ing as an in­ter­me­di­ary be­tween busi­nesses and cus­tomers. An­a­lyt­ics may re­veal rea­sons peo­ple add items to vir­tual carts but don’t com­plete pur­chases, or which mar­ket­ing ap­proaches work bet­ter with women or men. “This is about un­der­stand­ing user be­hav­ior and iden­tity,”Twist said.

User de­mo­graph­ics de­rived from an­a­lyt­ics po­ten­tially in­clude in­for­ma­tion openly shared at Face­book in­clud­ing gen­der, coun­try, lan­guage, ed­u­ca­tion lev­els and re­la­tion­ship sta­tus. That data is ag­gre­gated and made anony­mous, ac­cord­ing to Face­book. “You could never snoop on a par­tic­u­lar in­di­vid­ual,” Twist said. Twist said the com­pany’s goal is to help busi­nesses us­ing bots dis­cern what makes peo­ple buy rather than browse.

Bots do not re­ceive an­a­lytic data in real time, so ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence can­not learn along the way or de­tect if it is chat­ting with a man or a woman, ac­cord­ing to Twist. He said de­vel­op­ers cur­rently build ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence for bots, and Face­book han­dles the an­a­lyt­ics. The com­pany also an­nounced it will be­gin ac­cept­ing de­vel­op­ers of bots for Mes­sen­ger into a Face­book-spon­sored pro­gram that pro­vides free tools, ser­vices, and other re­sources to those who qual­ify. — AFP

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