Check out Nairabot, an exchange rate “mallam” that lives in Facebook Messenger

Money Nairabot

Yesterday, I read this post by Jason Njoku titled Zuck and the rise of the bots. TL;DR? He believes in the “Rise of the Planet of the Bots”. Nigeria is the most mobilised country in the world today, and A LOT of our communication happens via Instant Messaging platforms. Jason’s thesis is that messaging platforms will become “the internet” and that’s how information will primarily flow from user to user. In the same vein, he found a 23-year old developer based in Yaba, named Fowotade “Jihdeh” Babajide.

Babajide built a Facebook Messenger bot that users can query for each day’s parallel exchange rates (not the fake one CBN is keeping up) and called it Nairabot (formerly known as FXbot). At its very core, the idea riffs off the (mostly Hausa) men who stand outside BDCs (Bureau de Change), buying and selling foreign currencies. The parallel market. The prices these “mallams” quote are the best representation of any currency’s value, because they are completely market-driven: something is only worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it.

Jihdeh’s Nairabot probably talks to a service like Abokifx.com, a website that lists the exchange rate between the Nigerian Naira and the US Dollar, British Pound, Euro, Yuan, via API and uses that information to respond to user queries. Pretty neat. I took it for a spin about an hour ago, and I have receipts.

You don’t need to download or install anything. Visit Facebook.com/Nairabot and send a message

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When you tap the Get Started button, Nairabot will give you a quick primer

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If you start applying the right commands, it will respond to your requests almost instantaneously

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Apparently, it’s not used to receiving gratitude…

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I find this exciting. Not because of what it is (I mean…look at the “Thank You” thing), but what it could turn out to be. When Bankole first posted the bot as a thread on Radar, I geeked out and typed out a lengthy spiel. Here’s an excerpt:

There’s a lot of Brownian activity going on since we’ve come to the end of the mobile wave (hint: Apple and Google won) and we’re at the fold between two hills. The only thing certain is that the next big platform will either be built directly on (the sheer scale of) mobile (AI: ML, NLP, or the intersection of many of those things), or take advantage of the fact that mobile smartphones parts are now cheaper (VR headsets, HMDs, Wearable tech, etc.) – economics of scale and all.

I’m not a fan of what I call linear, incremental thinking. That is, taking things that exist right now, and using them to draw up models of what the future “will” look like. That’s because many things can happen in the next few years to completely change the landscape (aside: I think the future is made up of a clash of ideas, not extensions of existing ones).

From this article I (wrote and) linked to:

“…is akin to going back in time to 2002 and showing someone an Xbox One console. They’d get super-excited about it and term it “futuristic”, but it does not paint a wholesome picture of what the future (today) looks like”

In all, I’m excited about the future and what that phrase turns out to mean in say…10 years. Messenger bots may be it (because Africans largely already drink the web through a straw – WhatsApp, Facebook, Nairaland, and Linda Ikeji’s comments section are all social networks, e-commerce sites, Wikipedias, etc.), or they may not.

I’m sticking around to find out.

Meanwhile, check out Nairabot, if you find it interesting.