Facebook to unveil Messenger 'Bot Store' at upcoming F8 conference, rumours suggest

The 'Bot Store' could change the mobile internet in the same way Apple's App Store has

Rumours suggest that Facebook will unveil a 'Bot Store' for its Messenger app at its upcoming F8 developer conference in April.

The conference, created for developers and entrepreneurs who build products centred on Facebook, has previously been the place where the social network's bosses have announced important changes like site redesigns, embeddable 'Like' buttons and its 'social graph' framework.

If the Bot Store does get unveiled at this year's conference, it could herald a huge change in the world of technology - similar to the impact of Apple's App Store in 2008, according to TechCrunch.

The 'Bot Store' would likely allow users to download a range of automated programs which they could interact with through Messenger.

People might download a pizza chain's bot, allowing them to order food simply by sending it a message with what they want. Alternatively, they might be able to book cinema tickets, order taxis, make restaurant reservations, check their bank balances or check in for flights, all by sending regular messages to a smart conversational robot. Facebook bots could replace browsers and apps, bringing everything onto a single service.

Users of chat platforms like Telegram and Slack have been using bots to add features for a long time, but bringing the technology to Facebook's 1 billion users could take it to the mainstream.

In the same way that many businesses have developed around a single mobile app (like Uber or Snapchat, both multi-billion-dollar companies), or integrated Facebook into their day-to-day work, a dedicated bot platform would provide organisations with a whole new way of doing business with customers.

As Facebook director Julien Codorniou told Wired last year, Messenger is "one per cent finished" - the company wants to turn the app from a simple chat service to an all-in-one online communications tool along the lines of China's WeChat, which has hundreds of millions of users and has built a huge number of shopping and business applications on top of its chat feature.

It's early days for bot technology, and although developers are very excited about it, users might not embrace it quickly. But it seems like people would jump at the chance to fit all their favourite mobile services into one platform, rather than having to deal with 30 different apps scattered around their phone.

This year's F8 conference will run from 12-13 April this year in San Francisco. We'll know more about Facebook's bot ambitions when it starts.

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