Messenger apps, particularly Facebook Messenger, have begun to emerge as a fast-growing platform for user engagement. According to a Pew Research study published in June, 49 percent of smartphone owners age 18 to 29 use messenger apps, and the number of users is expected to reach 2.19 billion by 2019. Additionally, Facebook Messenger added over 11,000 chatbots over the summer (a number that continues to grow), bringing user engagement to a whole new level.

Messenger apps and chatbots are regarded by some as the next big gaming platform, and that’s a tough idea to argue with when Choose Your Own Adventure-style interactive bots such as the initial Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (where a bot posed as a character named Lt. Reyes) created over 6 million engagements in 24 hours. The engagement was so successful that Activision created a follow-up version at the game’s launch called Terminal Tours. It features actress and musician, Kate Micucci (Scrubs; Garfunkel and Oates), who plays the role of an interstellar tour guide named Alana, who has a penchant for killer pranks.

Whether users are playing messenger games or planning their next big trip, there’s a chatbot for that.

Kiwi, Inc. CEO and Sequel founder, Omar Siddiqui, recently spoke to [a]listdaily about how chatbots and messenger platforms have grown over the past year, and what could be worth talking about in the near future.

Omar Siddiqui, Kiwi, Inc. CEO; Sequel Founder
Omar Siddiqui, Kiwi, Inc. CEO; Sequel Founder

How advanced have chatbots become in the past year?

Over the year, Facebook, Kik, and Microsoft launched bots on their respective messaging platforms to take a niche trend from Slack and Telegram to the mainstream. We’ve since seen the industry grow with brands, developers, and creators rushing to create bots and jump on the bot bandwagon.

Bot developers have been busy primarily figuring out the interaction model that will work for consumers in this new medium. While the initial expectations had been that we would go to a full natural language-only experience in interacting with bots, it has actually been a combination of native messaging app user interface elements, ranging from vertical and horizontal carousels, and graphics-rich buttons combined with conversational text that has emerged as the most effective paradigm.

In addition, the know-how to catch customer intent and steer them into the workflows that they intend has been another area of major improvement, engendered not only by improving capabilities on the part of the messaging platforms as well as bot toolsets, but also the experience on the part of bot creators.

How do users discover brands through messaging apps?

It all depends on the messaging platform being used. For instance, Kik has a bot shop where users can browse through top bots in categories such as Entertainment, Fashion and Beauty, Games, and Lifestyle, or search for a specific bot. For Facebook Messenger—while there is a set of bots that are featured by the platform in a discovery area, the primary mode of consumer discovery is through the brand’s Facebook Page or other launch point into the experience that is integrated with the brand’s overall web presence.

Do you think messaging apps and bots are significantly changing the way people engage with brands?

The change has been gradual, but consumers are expecting to engage brands in conversation. This trend has been organically seen already through the rise of platforms like Facebook and Twitter for customer service, and it would be a shame not to extend the dialogue that starts through a customer service issue to an overall consumer relationship. Bots enable this dialogue to occur in an automated way, and it seems inevitable given consumer preferences on how they want to engage and communicate with each other and the significant brands in their lives.

It has been said that messaging apps and chatbots could surpass the app stores in growth. What are your thoughts on this?

It’s hard to judge on an absolute basis since the bot market is still relatively early and emerging. Although, it would be fair to say that connecting with what you want done through conversation is a massive trend that will permeate all aspects of our lives. This trend will be expressed not just through messaging app-based bots, but increasingly through interactive audio experiences on platforms like Alexa and Google Home and other novel platforms as well. So it is definitely an exciting trend, and we’ll certainly see changes in the market in how consumers interact with the brands and services they care about.

How do you think messaging apps and bots will continue to evolve in 2017?

It’s still the early days for bots, and we firmly believe that the evolution of these automated conversations will be one of the greatest endeavors over the next few years. Right now, bots are where web pages were in 1995. It will take time for the medium to emerge and become what it inevitably will be, but we are excited about the future possibilities.

Over the course of this year, we’ve seen improvements in the interface elements offered to consumers to aid their interactions as they speak with bots, as well as some initial conventions on what it means to build a great bot experience.

Next year, we’ll see continued improvements in the same interaction design supported by both platform improvements and technological progress on how best to utilize natural language as part of the bot experience. We’ll see the messaging apps continue to make improvements in bot discovery for consumers and more organic means by which bots can be surfaced to consumers at appropriate points in their work flows on these apps. We will also see the emergence of multimedia bots with audio and voice taking more of the mind-share as a complement to text-based experiences.