Skype Bots are evolving past their chat-based beginnings.
The current selection of Skype Bots range from entertaining pastimes to online assistants that help users book travel deals. Soon, the next generation of bots on the online communications platform will be able to participate in video calls.
During last week's Build developer conference in Seattle, Microsoft announced a range of developer tools that expand how the company's bot platform interacts with users. This includes a software development kit that enables one-on-one or group video conferences with interactive bots.
"This platform provides real-time, voice and video streams of a Skype call which allows developers to build personal, immersive communications experiences with services and brands," wrote Microsoft executives in a blog post. "Developers can now use their creative talents to create engaging, entertainment and educational assistance bots with rich and interactive media content built into the experience."
Microsoft is offering businesses another incentive to create Skype Bots.
Using the company's secure payment processing service, Microsoft Checkout, developers can now accept payments during a Skype Bot chat session. This will enable consumers will be able to complete purchases without leaving the app, adding a conversational twist to the ecommerce experience and removing some friction from the process of getting paid.
Microsoft's bot efforts aren't solely focused on Skype.
Today the company announced a new chatbot search feature in Bing. Now users can search for bots and add them directly to a handful of messaging platforms, namely Facebook Messenger, Slack, Telegram and of course, Skype.
Restaurant goers will soon be able to use a chatbot within Bing to research their dining options. It can answer questions about the menu, accepted payment methods and where to park. Bing's restaurant chatbot is available first for Seattle-area eateries, a stone's throw from Microsoft's Redmond, Wash. headquarters. The company plans to roll out the feature to other metropolitan areas in the coming months.
Microsoft also took the wraps off Bing InfoBot, which uses artificial intelligence to automatically create bots from existing web content. Using a combination of machine learning and data in Bing's extensive web index, Bing InfoBot enables website operators to add conversational capabilities to their sites without custom development, according to the company. Currently, Bing InfoBot is being tested by some users on select sites like WebMD, Stack Overflow and Wikipedia.
Apart from bots, there are more ways developers can plug into the Skype ecosystem.
Microsoft has developed a new Skype Web Control that enables website owners to add Skype Chat to any site with two lines of code. Over the next few months, the company is rolling out Skype Add-ins, which will enable developers to integrate their applications into Skype conversations. The company also recently partnered with AddThis, provider of the social button service for websites, to add Skype to the list of sharing options.