Facebook Messenger session at #SXSW17 – Liveblog

Speakers: Andrew Yaroshevsky, Esther Crawford, Mikhail Larionov, Thomas Smyth. Packed room, every seat taken, maybe 300 people. We all want to learn about bots!


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Len Edgerly March 13, 201710:34 am

Here is the link to the session with bios of speakers: http://schedule.sxsw.com/2017/events/PP66888

Show of hands in the room shows there are more people who have created Messenger bots than have used them.
What is exciting about building conversational products?
Thomas: Open Messenger and type “Ask Trim.” Automates finances. Cancel old subscriptions, negotiate Comcast bill. He is CEO and co-founder of Trim. It’s Mint through Messenger. It’s faster. Apps are a pain because it takes 45 seconds to download it. You don’t have to download a bot. They started on SMS, more engagement on Messenger. It’s a better platform.
Len Edgerly March 13, 201710:37 am

Andrew: COO of Chatfuel, easy way for nontechnical people to create bots. New York Times is using it and others. Years ago people had to learn language to talk with machines. Now computers learn human language. It’s frictionless, beautiful.

Challenges: natural language understanding is not there yet. He was head of image search at Yandex, aka Russian Google. Biggest challenge for bot developer is to set expectations right for users. They have hundreds of thousands of bots on their site. People get frustrated and leave the bot.
Len Edgerly March 13, 201710:41 am

Mikhail Larionov was second engineer at Messenger for Businesses team. It is hard to create a conversational app. Built Messenger to be able to do it. Messenger has a billion users.

Thomas (co-founder of Trim): It’s a super robust API. Being able to appear in a thread with people’s friends is hugely powerful. You can’t do that with an app. Threads is a powerful idea. People should be talking more about it. Your life happens in a series of threads. You continue one in another platform. A compelling vision of the future.
But you don’t want to get an ad next to message from your best friend. Tough line to walk.
Len Edgerly March 13, 201710:59 am

Bots are like a date. Downloading an app is like a marriage. You go to a concert and they want you to download an app. Really?

Buttons versus natural language. Buttons are easier, but some things are better with language interface.
When someone hits a fail you tell them what the got CAN do.
Mikhail: The goal justifies the measure. What are you trying to do with the user?
Andrew: You need to move forward, make mistake. Don’t wait for Natural Language to be perfected.
Tom: Some people are building their own MLP in house. Really? How many users do you have?
Crawford: Bot thing is hard to define, the term itself. We have shied away from it because the average person isn’t looking for “a bot.” There is coverage of negative side. When do you use chatbot, bot, agent?
Mikhail: Users do not know what bots are. Only developers know. Don’t use it.
Andrew: Bot is the least bad. Don’t know of another. When FB launched with hype and everything, the digital people got it.
Mikhail: it’s easier to sell this term to media now.
Len Edgerly March 13, 201711:04 am

Q. How do you describe it.

Thomas: I rarely use it except on a panel like this. Most people know it as virtual assistant, which is unfortunate. We have a long way to go. People might not have a category name for it unless two they use two or three. Foreseeable future is going to have an uphill battle for bot. Assistant? Automated? It’s very difficult. Whatever this thing is it’s cool and will be really helpful. Maybe we have to figure out the name later.
Q. Biggest hurdle building bot on Messenger?
Andrew: We build tool that makes it easy to build a bot but it has to be flexible. We compete with doing it in code. This is Chatfield. There are updates from Messenger every month that we have to support.
Second is infrastructure. We’re growing. Delivering messages back and forth, we keep scaling. Facebook helps us. Good problem to have.
Len Edgerly March 13, 201711:07 am

Thomas: for us it’s discovery. How acquire new users. Also sharing. There seems to be a big opportunity that users share with other people. We have not cracked that nut yet.

Mikhail: One of the biggest problems is it’s hard for developer to focus on single thing and do it well. Frustrating to see how people go sideways just for the sake of doing it instead of focusing on their goals.
My take: Fascinating. I was surprised how few people in the room have made or used bots, but the crowd is big, interested. This is a front row on something coming, right in the wheelhouse of SXSW. Excellent panel.
Len Edgerly March 13, 201711:11 am

Andrew: We launched bots on Chatfield with Brew the Wait bot and payments. You can purchase coffee with it. On Messenger. The experience is good. TechCrunch had bot for buying tix for its event. You get your ticket on Messenger. Now with the credit card on file it’s pretty cool. WeChat has cards on file and people use it to buy groceries. That’s China, I think.

Mikhail: We introduced payments 6 months ago. This is a long term project. We will spend a lot of time making it great.
Thomas: Messenger’s head David Marcus was previously at PayPal, so there is no one better.
Len Edgerly March 13, 201711:14 am

Q. (audience): What bots are you using?

A. Andrew. TechCrunch for news. Sports bot for soccer teams. Meditate bot a good way to start meditating. Brew the wait. ABC News are innovative, make it conversational. They are based in Australia, the bot team.
Tom: Magic Monsters on Messenger. Conversational gaming. I have developed an emotional attachment..
Eshter: Purple, a politics and news bot, base on an individual person’s viewpoint. .
Len Edgerly March 13, 201711:17 am

Q. How do you find out unspoken needs of customers?

Esther: If you look through chat logs. Needs are spoken there. How you handle them is up to you. You can see what people are looking for.
Andrew: Now you can see all the comments, instead of heat maps from web sites. People love answering questions in a bot. If you are a brand you can ask questions to get information about customers. Where are you, how many keys do you have to your car? Very easy to do in chatbots.
Len Edgerly March 13, 201711:18 am

Q. Video delivery? I work for a university and we do short docs.

Andrew: NBA team built a bot on Chatfield. Interview your favorite star. Prerecorded and split into questions. It feels like user is controlling the question. It’s embedded in Messenger. Good traction with this.
Mikhail: short video works best.
Len Edgerly March 13, 201711:21 am

Q. Hot Topic retailer. Launching an app.

Tom: You should kill the app and move straight to the chatbot.
Q. Our customers are young. How long should we wait. What is the first step for a retailer.
Tom: Yesterday. As long as your customers are on a messenger platform you should be there. Chatfield.com takes 11 minutes to start a bot.
Esther: We found that 71 percent who signed up for our product were 13-24 had the most time to play with technology and were the most forgiving. There isn’t much to loose if you give a narrow and limited experience.
Q. How convince C suite?
Esther: Data, a limited test with an email blast to people who can try it.
Len Edgerly March 13, 201711:25 am

Q. Livechat v. bot. How do we test this thing? How do you know how well your bot is doing.

Tom: There are third party analytics tools to measure things. FB has a dashboard with tools. Honestly, looking at logs and threads is better. See where people drop off and come in. Have a couple hundred conversations and see where people get stuck and solve from there.
Esther: It’s difficult to do it within FB. A Slack channel-import conversations into Slack. Dashbot an option.
Andrew: same things as measuring apps. Retention etc. The tools are all there. Qualitative research is important. How many times do people thank the bot.
Len Edgerly March 13, 201711:28 am

Q. When do you have permission for bot to initiate conversation.

Esther: user has to subscribe.
Q. What seems reasonable.
Andrew: customer matching on FB. If you are a coffee shop owner you can reach out to phone numbers of customers if you have them.
Esther: It’s different for different cohorts of users. We were sending out daily messages and it caused unsubscribe and block rate to go up. But 15 percent wanted to hear from us daily. We wanted to deliver notices at the pace they wanted to hear from us.