Microsoft Acquires Wand Labs for Chattier Bots

By Pedro Hernandez  |  Posted 2016-06-16 Print this article Print
Microsoft Wand Labs deal

Microsoft doubles down on conversational bots and chat-based interactions by snapping up Wand Labs, a messaging app startup.

Microsoft's acquisition train isn't slowing down.

Following Monday's $26 billion acquisition of LinkedIn, the software giant revealed June 16 that it has snapped up Foster City, Calif.-based messaging app startup Wand Labs. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Wand Labs specializes in integrating services such as Yelp, Spotify and dozens of others with chat. The company's app enables users to check restaurant reviews, build playlists and share access to devices like the Nest smart thermostat via chat.

"Wand Labs' technology and talent will strengthen our position in the emerging era of conversational intelligence, where we bring together the power of human language with advanced machine intelligence—connecting people to knowledge, information, services and other people in more relevant and natural ways," said David Ku, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Information Platform group, in a June 16 announcement.

The purchase furthers Microsoft's Conversations as a Platform strategy, first announced during this year's Build developer conference, said Ku. Wand's chat-based technology will extend into the Bing search engine, the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform, Office 365 and Windows, he added.

"The Wand team's expertise around semantic ontologies, services mapping, third-party developer integration and conversational interfaces makes them a great fit to join the Bing engineering and platform team, especially with the work we're doing in the area of intelligent agents and chat bots," said Ku.

Microsoft has already begun experimenting with chatbots. The company recently issued an update for Skype that includes a handful of bots that can search Bing, answer "what if" questions and display pictures from Getty Images. Over time, and with third-party developer support, Microsoft hopes to create an ecosystem of intelligent Skype bots that help users book travel, shop online and more.

Wand Labs was founded in 2013 with the goal of incorporating "mobile scale, natural language capabilities and third-party services to enable users to easily access and share any authorized service or device," wrote Vishal Sharma, founder and CEO of Wand Labs, in a letter posted on his company's Website. "The work we've been doing with predictive assistance and delegated authority is at the leading edge of a broader technology shift that is redefining the information industry."

The Wand service is being shut down in the wake of the acquisition, said Sharma. Wand was previously available as a preview app for iOS and Android.

Of course, Microsoft isn't the only company seeking to engage users with chatbots.

During its F8 developer conference in April, Facebook announced that its Messenger platform was open for business, allowing companies to reach users with chatbots. The first batch of Facebook Messenger chatbots includes HP Print Bot, Poncho and 1-800-Flowers.

One company is even using chatbots to help solve communications issues for data security teams. Demisto, founded by former Intel McAfee staffers, claims to have created the first bot-powered ChatOps platform for security specialists. "Demisto is using automation, bots and ChatOps to create an environment in which two [security] analysts can solve incidents together," Rishi Bhargava, co-founder and vice president of marketing at Demisto, told eWEEK's Chris Preimesberger during a recent interview.


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