Most of us spend way more time than we’d like to admit chatting (a.k.a. procrastinating) on Facebook Messenger. But the growing popularity of bots —software that automates conversation between consumers and brands or services — means we can recoup some of that chatting time in the name of productivity. YASS!
The main purpose of a bot is to make your life more convenient and productive by helping you to get things done without ever leaving Messenger. From where the brand sits, it’s a fun way to connect with and help consumers (and, yes, collect information about their preferences, but not unlike every other interaction on the web). Brands can offer cool services and recommendations with less clicks— no need to search Google for “Best Recipe for Guacamole” and scan thousands of results. Instead, “text” with a bot brand you trust and get the answer hand-delivered.
How Bots Work
Finding bots used to be a bit tricky, but the new “Discover” tab in the messenger app makes things a lot easier.
On iOS or Android: Download Facebook Messenger (a separate app from Facebook, but free to use), then tap Discover. A “Featured” list will show bots that Facebook wants to promote, and below you’ll have categories you can search through.
I’m hoping the search gets even better in time: A search for “cocktails” didn’t bring up “Simi Your Personal Bartender” even though the word is in their sub-title description. So sometimes you have to know exactly what a bot is called to find it, though searching for “cocktails” did bring up other fun results.
On the web: Head to BotList, an online directory for apps in Messenger and many other platforms. Use the white bar at the top to filter by “Messenger” then search.
More and more companies have boarded the bot train, so the list is getting longer. But they’re all designed to help you find information, and simulate a conversation with a real person so you can get the information you need without having to wait for a real person. Think of it like a Google search result you don’t have to comb through— it’s straight from the brand you trust, and the answer can be highly customized.
Here are some bots that you could have fun with this summer, with instructions on how to make them work. If you haven’t tried any of these, they’re super fun and the answers will almost make you think you’re talking to a staffer at Netflix or the Food Network… almost.
For your backyard bbq
Food Network: Time to grill… but what? This handy bot from my favorite culinary channel helps you find recipes for burgers, kebobs, brisket, whatever you’re in the mood for — instantly. Search by ingredient, meal type or your favorite chef or show, and this bot will search the Food Network’s library of more than 60,000 recipes and send you tasty options within moments.
Simi Your Personal Bartender: Let Simi know what you have in your kitchen, and what kind of alcohol you have around, and she’ll suggest the perfect mixer to whip up on the fly.
Lazyset: If your DJ skills are lacking but you need a killer playlist for your grillfest, Lazyset is the perfect fix. Type some of the artists you like into Messenger, and the bot will create a perfect Spotify playlist for your get together (or workout, or the ride home). Effortless tunes.
If you blew your budget on your beach vacay
Trim: This chatbot strives to find little ways to save you money, like letting you know if prices drop on recent Amazon purchases or getting you credits if your cable goes out. Set up an account at asktrim.com in advance, so it can pull information from your financial life. Now Trim proactively helps you identify money-wasters, like pulling up all recurring subscriptions and helping you cancel the ones you don’t need (because really, when was the last time you went to Crunch Fitness?).
If you’ve got a popcorn craving
Fandango: Wondering what movie to see, and where? Start your search with a particular movie, a theater, or what’s trending and you’ll have ideas faster than you can order your buttered popcorn.
If it’s too hot to go outside
And Chill: If you’re fixing to spend the night binging on movies, just tell this bot some of the others that you have seen and loved. Example: Type Before Sunrise (because you’re a sucker for young Ethan Hawke and ‘90s nostalgia). The bot provides some really obscure yet stellar suggestions, like Mr. Nobody and Upstream Color. You won’t be disappointed.
Dominos: It’s a pizza night. And talking to a human about bringing you some is just too much work. Domino’s bot will tap into your account (if you have one) to re-order your last order, or your favorite order. You can also continue as a guest and place an order for anything you like. All you’ll have to do is answer the door (the bot can’t do that yet).
Planning a weekend road trip
Kayak: The travel search site makes it easy to plan a vacay with ease, whether you’re road or air bound. With a conversational request from you, Kayak will filter through its thousands of results to offer up the best choices. You can even look for fun things to do in, say, New York, if that’s where you’re headed (although it pulled up 1,168 options, so that wasn’t particularly helpful).
Poncho: Wondering if you’ll need rain boots in Seattle over labor day, or weather sunscreen in Joshua Tree this weekend? (Likely, yes, on both counts). Poncho’s friendly “weathercat” makes it easy to ask a weatherman(bot) anything meteorology-related, including what the pollen count might be, and what the frizz factor is (yes, it has a hair report).
If that sunburn looks bad…
HealthTap: If you’re sporting a weird rash from the waterslides, or just aren’t sure when to call your doctor about a fever, HealthTap provides free, instant, and, most important, private answers from its network of 100,000 doctors — without leaving home (or Messenger, for that matter). HOW DOES IT WORK?
If you need a bigger pool…
Trulia: Finding your next home is easy (okay, fine, easier) using this useful bot. Simply plug in your city, state, zip code and any specifics (i.e. 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, $3,000 in 92037). Trulia will immediately provide a list of available properties based on your search criteria and give you the option to get daily updates on new listings that also match your search.
If you’ve got summer brain
Jarvis: Jarvis will truly make your life better. Simply tell this chatbox when and what to remind you, and it will send you a relevant message at the appropriate time. Forgetting to pick your child up from soccer practice on Tuesdays is a thing of the past.