BetaNews reports that MSN has release two new IM "bots" (type in a query and get an automated response) for MSN Messenger are now available. This page offers details on how to access the MSN Bots. The services come from the Real-Time Collaboration team at MS. The Encarta bot itself is powered by Conversagent.
The Encarta bot, offers answers to "ready reference" types of questions (what is, who is, etc.) from MSN's Encarta Encyclopedia while the other bot offers BBC Television listings. I think bats will grow as a popular way to answer certain types of queries moving forward as IM becomes an even more popular communication tool. CitySearch, offered an AIM Bot last year but when I checked today, I was unable to access it. Here's a cached page with info.
AOL Instant Messenger offers a bunch of bots including one from the Wall Street Journal that I use on a regular basis. AOL ran into some trouble last week when they added bots for Moviefone and AOL Shopping (see: Search AOL Shopping Using AOL Instant Messenger) that according to BetaNews aggravated some AIM users since they were added to their buddy lists without being told.
Postscript: I tried the Encarta info bot. No surprises.
+ What is the Capital of the Gambia? Correct answer
+ Where was Abraham Lincoln born? Correct answer
+ How many ounces in a pound? Correct.
+ What what was the number one record in 1983? In this case no answer but I was "invited" to get (download) the Encarta "application" and go to the actual site for more info. I followed the directions but no luck. I'll try again tomorrow.