Facebook is widely expected to announce chatbots for businesses in Messenger during its F8 developer conference Tuesday, and now we have proof that bots are coming.
Several techradar staffers spotted a new Bots and Businesses section when searching for people in the Messenger app.
One editor had an older version of Messenger on her phone and only the "Businesses" section popped up during a search. After updating to a new version of the app, however, "Bots and Businesses" replaced it.
We haven't yet been able to confirm whether the new Bots and Businesses search result shows up on Android, but it does appear on iPhone in both the UK and US.
While we don't see any active bots at the moment, this appears to be where businesses that use chatbots will live.
Here's the Bots and Businesses section on the newest version of Messenger for iPhone:
And here's the set of results on an older version of Messenger for comparison:
Bring on the bots
The evidence points to the impending arrival of Facebook Messenger chatbots, though it won't be official until Facebook makes the announcement Tuesday.
We've asked Facebook for comment on what we're seeing, and will update this story if and when we hear back. Given an announcement is due in less than 24 hours, we're not expecting much.
The announcement of tools to build chatbots, to take place during F8, was first reported by TechCrunch last week.
Instead of businesses needing to develop a chatbot on their own or seek out a tech-savvy person to build one for them, Facebook is providing bot-building tools and Live Chat web plug-ins to developers, according to the site. Devs will then be able to create chatbots for businesses they serve, and businesses will essentially have a directory of bot makers to tap.
The chatbots won't be super-smart AI machines, but rather field fairly simple queries from customers. It's like a 1-800 number, only now the conversation takes place in a chat app on your phone.
There is, however, a "Structured Messages" feature that lets the bots respond with more detailed information - such as with a URL - instead of simple text.
The Live Chat feature will reportedly take users who want to contact a business to Messenger and let them carry out a conversation with a real person there.
We'll hear more about chatbots during F8's opening keynote beginning at 10am PT/1pm ET/6pm GMT. CEO Mark Zuckerberg will do the honors, but the chatbot chatter won't stop there: one of the first sessions after Zuck's keynote is called "Messenger: Connecting People and Businesses."
Hugh Langley, Salwa Azar and Cameron Faulkner contributed to this report
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