The sell? Businesses will be able interact with Messenger’s 900 million (and counting) users one-on-one, at scale. Meanwhile, the setting is as intimate and immediate as a marketer or retailer could hope for. The appeal to Facebook is equally apparent–imagine the revenue the social network could rake in if it can build a platform to compete with the Apple's app store, as has been suggested.
A few applications are already available, but how businesses will deploy these tools and how customers will react remains an open question.
One use case that did not get attention from Zuck? Using bots to analyze large amounts of personal data and chat interfaces to explain it in an approachable way. Examples of what this could look like are already being offered by a few fledgling financial technology companies.
Take Digit. Live for about a year, the service automatically saves small money for users by monitoring cash flow in their bank accounts. Digit communicates with users via text message: daily balance checks, large transactions alerts and occasional savings progress reports. A user can respond for details, to request Digit save more or to access funds. Exchanges can happen via traditional text message or in a separate messenger-like app.
“Bots have the ability to crunch huge amounts of data and quickly return results that are intelligently tailored to you,” says Ethan Bloch, co-founder of Digit. “The insight that finance bots like Digit have into your history means they’re able to deliver more personalized and nuanced third-party advice than you typically can receive at a bank.” Digit has raised $13.8 million in venture capital funding to grow this vision and says it is exploring ways to work with Messenger.
Another intriguing example is Penny, which launched earlier this year. Users link up one or more bank accounts to this spend tracking app. The platform is designed like a messaging app, but all conversations are with “Penny.” The cheery bot provides graphics and banter about your money habits, comparing month over month trends, categorizing expenses or answer questions like, “Do I spend more money at Starbucks or Peet’s Coffee?” As with the Digit app all user responses are currently pre-populated.
“Messaging interfaces are amazing at distilling complex concepts into simple conversations,” says Mitchell Lee, co-founder of Penny. Pointing out, that in addition to finance, chat could be a useful way to deal with health or travel planning. The format “is infinitely flexible as well. You can serve very different experiences to each user.” Penny, still brand new, does not have immediate plans to offer their services through Facebook Messenger, but sees it as a potential option for the future.