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Underscoring the growing importance of chatbots, Microsoft has launched a cloud-based service to help companies and developers create these automated, text-based exchanges.

Microsoft said its Azure bot service is the first public-cloud offering to offer Microsoft’s bot framework, which works in conjunction with Azure’s serverless-compute service.

The service eases creating automated conversational exchanges, which Lili Cheng, a Distinguished Engineer in Microsoft’s AI and research group, acknowledged in a blog post is “pretty difficult to do well.” Bots created with the service will work within apps, on websites, and in offerings including Slack, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Slack competitor Teams, GroupMe, Kik, Telegram and Twilio.

Microsoft in August added bots to Skype.

Azure competitors are also offering help in building bots. Amazon Web Services offers guidance on how to create bots using an open-source bot builder and AWS’s Lambda service. It even created a competition this fall to create bots, with nine winners that, among other things, translate for multi-lingual Slack teams, promote classroom engagement and ease Slack teams’ travel arrangements. Similarly, Google Cloud offers online help to build a Slack bot with the help of open-source package Botkit.

Facebook in April released guidance and services to help developers build bots for Messenger. As of this summer, 11,000 bots had reportedly been added to Messenger, some of which can  send videos, audio clips, GIFs, and other files.

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