Skype Bots Gather Groups, Make Friends With Facebook

A new developer update adds support for group conversations, Facebook bot features and a new way to organize content for users.

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Skype bots

Developers can now target group conversations, link with Facebook and generally do more with their Skype bots, courtesy of an update to the Microsoft Bot Framework.

Microsoft Bot Framework, announced at the software giant's Build 2016 developer conference earlier this year, includes a Bot Builder SDK (software development kit) and the Bot Framework Developer Portal, the latter of which enables developers to connect their bots to other popular online services. A Bot Directory is in the works, and will initially feature bots that debuted at the conference.

Microsoft debuted its "Conversations as a Platform" vision during Build 2016. The company hopes to usher in an era of conversational intelligence, or an ecosystem of devices, software and cloud services that enable users to complete tasks or transact businesses as simple as striking up a conversation with a friend, co-worker or customer support representative. Initially, Microsoft is focusing its efforts on Skype and its massive user base by releasing a handful of Skype bots along with developer tools to help set the stage for more.

So far, Microsoft appears to be off to a good start. The company estimates that more than 30,000 developers have begun building bots since it introduced the technology in March.

Skype bots appear as contacts once users select the "Add bots …" option. Currently, choices include a virtual assistant for enterprises called Ava Zoom, the Hello Stranger text game and Bing News, among a smattering of others. After releasing the first batch Skype bots for the Windows, Android, iPhone and iPad apps during Build, Mac users were finally able to take the tech for a spin in April.

On July 7, Microsoft announced an update to its framework that can help make the experience of interacting with Skype bots a little less lonely. The company added support for group conversations, allowing bots to interact with and respond to multiple users.

The update also features support for the latest Facebook bot capabilities. Facebook made a splash at its F8 conference in April when it announced the addition of chatbots to the company's Messenger app. Early supporters include Bank of America, HP and Zendesk.

Upcoming Skype bots will also feature improved natural language capabilities, according to Lilian Rincon, principal group program manager of Microsoft's Skype Consumer division. "Skype has collaborated with Bing to showcase a preview of Bing Entity and Intent detection so that natural language understanding is built right into Skype Bots—an industry first," she wrote in a blog post.

Developers can now also organize bot-generated content into a more user-friendly format. "Create visual cards for compelling user to bot interactions with image cards, carousels and receipts," encouraged Rincon.

Third-party developers can now streamline the log-in process by connecting and authorizing user credentials within a Skype bot card. Other new features include support for Slack buttons, integrated Skype calling, and simplified user and group addressing, added Microsoft.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...