Facebook F8: Messenger Just Got Some New Augmented Reality and Business Features

May 1, 2018, 5:30 PM UTC

Facebook believes that the key to getting more businesses to use its Messenger service is augmented reality and language translation.

The social networking giant debuted on Tuesday new tools for businesses to better communicate with customers using Facebook Messenger, the messaging app that Facebook separated from its core social networking service in 2014. The unveiling came during the company’s annual F8 developer conference in San Jose, Calif.

Although Facebook (FB) doesn’t reveal how much money Messenger makes, Facebook expects it to become a major source of future revenue. The company has been devoting a lot of attention to the service through upgrades and increased marketing.

One way Facebook has been attempting to popularize Messenger is by pitching the service as a way for customers to more easily contact businesses and seek help for technical problems like they have traditionally done by phoning customer service, or more recently, by visiting company chat rooms. People and businesses use Messenger to send over 8 billion messages each month, Facebook said, although it did not say whether companies or users account for the majority of those communications.

One new Facebook Messenger feature helps companies create more powerful chatbots that have correct information for customers at the ready. Facebook said that there are now 300,000 chatbots on Messenger that people are interacting with.

Laurent Landowski, a Facebook Messenger product manager, explained that the feature works by letting coders comb through questions people might send to company via its corporate Facebook inbox. From there, coders can see a list of all the questions and filter out what are the most common questions and which are outliers. The goal is for companies to build more useful chatbots that don’t disappoint users by giving confusing or off-target responses.

“If you try to guess what a customer asks, then you will end up building a bot that doesn’t answer the question,” Landowski said.

Facebook also built a new Messenger feature (based on another Messenger feature that suggests relevant talking points during conversations) that specifically works within the company’s Craigslist-like Marketplace that people use to list things for sale. If an English-speaking user sees a Marketplace posting in which a Spanish-speaking user is selling a television, that English speaker can now chat with the seller within Messenger, and their communications will be automatically translated into each other’s preferred language.

Facebook is debuting the Messenger language translation service within Marketplace before it rolls it out more broadly in Messenger because users are more likely to need it for buying goods from people they don’t know, Landowski explained. The language translation feature helps Marketplace users because “you don’t have a way to know if the buyer or seller can speak your own language.”

Currently, the translation feature only works for Spanish and English speakers, but more languages will debut later, Facebook said.

Facebook also introduced a new Messenger service that’s tailored for augmented reality, a technology that lets people use their smartphones or headsets to see digital images superimposed on the real world. The new AR feature lets companies embed AR graphics within Messenger so that customers get a more compelling sales pitch while chatting.

Automakers, for example, could use the tools to let people play with digital versions of cars that look like they are floating in the real world, all while people chat within Messenger.

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Some of the companies testing the new AR feature include carmaker Kia, Nike, and cosmetics giant Sephora. Nike is using the AR feature to show people new pairs of its shoes while in Messenger, and Sephora is letting people apply digital makeup to their faces like actual lipstick and eye shadow.

The new AR feature is only available to a few companies, and interested businesses must apply to test it.

Story clarified to explain question collecting process for coders building Messenger chatbots.

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