Facebook’s Messenger App, WhatsApp, Microsoft’s Skype and Canada’s Kik are popular tools used for messaging friends. But users of these services can expect that in the coming few months, they will find new automated assistants or chatbots offering information and services at a variety of businesses, says a report from SLTRIB.

Chatbots Could Be The Next Big Thing

Chatting with the robots

These messaging chatbots are simply software programmed to conduct conversations like humans and perform simple tasks humans have been performing until now. If reports are to be believed, Google and other companies are also developing messaging chatbots of their own.

Software butlers are already part of the landscape in Asia. Samantha Guo, an attorney in Washington, D.C., visited China recently and was amazed by the fact that her friends made extensive use of the bots and similar technology on the texting service WeChat to pay for meals, order movie tickets and send gifts to each other.

“It was mind-blowing,” she said, adding that U.S. services lag way behind.

Media and technology consultant Michael Wolf said that online messaging has become a routine task for most people for the simple reason that it offers more immediacy than email or voice calls. The growth rate of messaging services is faster than that of traditional online social platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, according to research conducted by Wolf’s firm Activate.

How are chatbots more popular than apps?

Messaging bots are capable of handling a much wider range of tasks than the apps offered by retailers and other consumer businesses. This is so because the bots have the capability of recognizing a variety of spoken or typed phrases, whereas apps force users to choose from available options on a drop-down menu. Accessing chatbots is also easy and simple. On the other hand, a special purpose app needs to be downloaded first and often asks for a new account sign-up.

Last month, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that bots are the new apps. Microsoft just created new programming tools to help businesses create bots to interact with customers on Skype, a Microsoft-owned Internet voice, video and messaging service. It is expected that Facebook will unveil similar tools for its Messenger chat service at its annual software conference starting Tuesday.

Facebook has already entered into a partnership with a few online retailers and transportation companies to enable customers to use the Messenger app for many purposes such as ordering car services from Uber, getting a boarding pass from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and checking the status of a clothing purchase from online retailer Zulily,.