For all of Facebook's reputation for moving fast and breaking things, the company is also capable of moving slowly and deliberatively. At last year's F8, it started talking about using its Messenger service as a means for communications between companies and customers. And only today did it announce that it was formally rolling out the chatbot platform which makes this possible.
After this morning's keynote, I chatted with Peter Martinazzi, director of product management for Messenger, about the process of making the service a platform for commerce and customer service. "This is an important app in their life," he told me. "This is how they talk to people close to them. It can't get in the way of that." So Facebook has been testing the bots and fine-tuning them so that users find them useful rather than a new and annoying form of spam.
Right now, he said, "the user needs to do some interaction to cause the thread to open." The company is experimenting with letting merchants send unsolicited messages to existing customers, but isn't introducing such a feature now because it needs more time to nail the experience.
And if worse comes to worse, Facebook tried to make it as obvious as possible to figure out how to banish a bot from Messenger by blocking it: