I went looking today for tools to create an autoresponder for Facebook's private messaging functions. I try to avoid using Facebook's messaging whenever possible, but that doesn't stop someone who I'm connected to there from sending me a private message, which then most often sits unreplied for weeks or months. Having an autoreply that encouraged message senders to email me instead would save me some time and help make sure the contact attempt got through in a timely manner.
The bottom line is that the options are very limited and I may need to build my own if it feels important enough to pursue. In the meantime I thought I'd post my findings here in case there are others looking for the same, or who have new ideas to share.
- The folks at Viaplay created a website/app that looks like it will do exactly what I want, but will also add their own branding and a promotional link on to every message. Ugh, no thanks.
- I searched through Github projects for Facebook API tools that help with this, and while there are many that interact with Facebook messaging, I didn't find any that perform this specific function.
- Other than Facebook's own API, fbcmd, the unofficial command line interface for Facebook, holds the most promise as a starting point for a scriptable interaction with FB messages (e.g. here's someone automating saying "thanks" for birthday messages), but unfortunately doesn't support sending/replying to messages yet.
- Some people have played with creating auto-responders in email but my experience is that the email-based notifications from FB about new private messages are inconsistent, also true of their reply-by-email handling, and so wouldn't be a good choice for an automated system.
- In the past people have been able to rig up XMPP clients that can interact with Facebook chat (and maybe messages?) and then script those to auto-reply, but Facebook has been phasing out their support for XMPP and it's not really a current option.
- Then there are the lonely cries for help on various job/software boards asking for just this feature, and people asking Facebook how to block all messages. Doesn't exist, can't do it.
It would be interesting to know if the possibility of autoreplying to messages or disabling messages altogether has been given much consideration within Facebook. It would make sense within their business model that they want people coming into the Facebook ecosystem for communicating as much as possible, so I doubt we'll see a change in options here any time soon.
If you have other ideas/tools for scratching this particular itch (other than the obvious "disable your Facebook account") or other ways you approach this issue, please share in the comments!
Updated March 21, 2016: I revisited this issue again today just to see if any new options have emerged, and I didn't find any. The
read_mailbox permission has been deprecated from Facebook's API, and they note "This permission is granted to apps building a Facebook-branded client on platforms where Facebook is not already available. For example, Android and iOS apps will not be approved for this permission. In addition, Web, Desktop, in-car and TV apps will not be granted this permission." All of the other scrapers, tools and services I can find that have ever been able to access a user's messages are shut down or unmaintained. The Facebook Terms of Service have been updated to explicitly prohibit any kind of scraping of data from their site, even your own. In short, Facebook is very intentionally preventing anyone from accessing their messages except through the web and official apps.