The bot brigade

By Heather Clancy
April 12, 2016

Adam Lashinsky is on assignment. Erin Griffith is a writer at Fortune.

Is the tech world suddenly obsessed with bots because they have a catchy, futuristic-sounding name or because they are the future of everything?

Probably a mix of both. After months of buildup, the hype around bots—simple apps programmed to take action when certain conditions are met—will reach its apex later today when Facebook is expected to announce a “bot store” for its Messenger app at its F8 developer conference.

The bot brigade—including Facebook, Microsoft, messaging app startups Kik and Slack, and others—envisions a future where everyone interacts with businesses through the apps they’re already using. Don’t bother firing up the Uber app, just order a car from inside Slack. Don’t bother searching for makeup tips on YouTube, ask Sephora inside Kik. Or, hypothetically, track your Amazon order from inside Facebook Messenger. When we initiate these interactions, there isn’t a customer service rep on the other end. There’s a bot!

Bots could be the new apps. But for that to work, every company—Sephora, Amazon, Uber, etc.—must build its own bot. That’s why Facebook is rallying developers to join its bot ecosystem today, and Microsoft stirred up hype around its bot-building tools in late March. Slack even created an $80 million fund to invest in bot startups.

The big selling point to developers is that bots are cheaper and simpler to build and distribute than apps. Once you build a bot, it’s easy to port it to other messaging apps.

Business bots are integral to Facebook’s plan for making money on 800 million-user Messenger and billion-user WhatsApp. Advertising is too invasive for these one-on-one messaging services, so Facebook can’t follow the same path to profits.

Facebook has been talking about artificial intelligence, payments, and customer service for over a year now, but none of those things have garnered as much excitement as the recent hype about bots. Must be the catchy, futuristic-sounding name.

Erin Griffith
@eringriffith
Erin.Griffith@fortune.com

This essay is part of Griffith’s ongoing series about startups, “A Boom with a View.”

 


BITS AND BYTES

Dell-owned security firm files IPO papers. SecureWorks seeks to raise up to $155 million in an initial public offering priced at $15.50 to $17.50 per share, according to papers filed Monday with the SEC. The company took pains to note that the money won’t be transferred to its parent company or its affiliates. That means it’s not intended to help reduce debt associated with Dell/EMC merger. (Fortune)

PC shipments slip in first quarter. Just 64.8 million personal computers shipped worldwide from January through March, according to research released Monday by research firm Gartner. That represents the slowest three-month period since 2007 and the sixth consecutive quarter of declines. Hybrid devices that are part notebook computer, part tablet are picking up the slack somewhat but not fast enough. (Wall Street Journal, Re/code)

Microsoft gives thumbs-up to new E.U.-U.S. privacy pact. The software giant likes the tone of the so-called “Privacy Shield” proposal that could govern how U.S. companies use personal data collected about European citizens. The deal would replace the “Safe Harbor” policy, which was struck down last fall. Too bad the E.U.’s privacy regulators aren’t as excited about the proposed new regulation. Their opinion is due out later this week. (Fortune)

Alibaba expands Asian presence. The mammoth Chinese e-commerce company will pay $1 billion for a controlling interest in Lazada, which has a big presence in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. The move supports chairman Jack Ma’s goal of having Alibaba generate at least half its revenue from markets outside China. (Fortune)

Ticketing startup signs marquee deal with two huge theater chains. Regal Entertainment and AMC Entertainment, which control the two biggest movie theater networks in the U.S., will support a mobile app from Atom Tickets by the summer. The technology enables groups of people to organize and buy tickets using their smartphone. (Wall Street Journal)

Bosch, Flextronics back farm-tech startup. Three-year-old CropX uses sensors to help agribusinesses control water consumption. Their investment was part of the company’s $10 million Series A funding round. (Fortune)

Facebook and Microsoft: No gender pay gap here. The two tech giants anticipated Equal Pay Day this week by proclaiming that men and women on their payrolls earn the same amount of money. Amazon and Salesforce recently made similar statements. (Fortune)


THE DOWNLOAD

Here’s why Square shares are jumping. Shares of payments technology company Square have risen 40% over the past month.

The San Francisco-based business, which went public last November, initially priced its offering at $9 per share, eventually seeing shares spike only to drop in January by as much as 33% to $8.06 per share. Yet within the last month, Square beat analyst expectations for its fourth-quarter earnings, seeing its share price skyrocket by as much as 40% to a high of $15.87 each. Fortune senior writer Leena Rao reports on why the company’s new online lending plan has given investors more faith in Square’s fundamentals.



ONE MORE THING

Geek Squad trades in its wheels. Retailer Best Buy is swapping the iconic Volkswagen Beetles that its tech support team uses for house calls for a fleet of Toyota Prius hybrids. The motivation was the company’s carbon emissions reduction plan. (Fortune)


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy.
@greentechlady
heather@heatherclancy.com

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