Earlier this year Facebook described how it imagines its messaging platform: “We think of Messenger as being like the new living room for the world.” At the F8 conference, several new features for Messenger 2.0 were announced that are the building blocks for this vision. These included features that enhance users’ experiences with chatbots, such as a discover tab where users can search for businesses and bots, and chat extensions where users can add a bot to their group chats. Chatbots are being given a social personality and are being used by businesses to better assist customers — and keep them engaged with the company — instead of being directed away from the platform to a website, at which point some users drop off. With a chatbot on Messenger, they don’t have to go anywhere.
Whether you’re a fan of chatbots or not, they’re going to be part of your life. You’ll see them on the Facebook pages of companies you follow, and you’ll come across them in a whole realm of obvious, and unexpected places. Like fidget spinners, it doesn’t matter if you own one or use one: love them or hate them, you’re still going to hear about them. In another article, I argue the case for creating fidget spinners with integrated bot technology, or AI fidget bots (great name for a dance troop). I wrote this under a pseudonym to avoid an angry mob of school teachers and parents. For the moment, it’s worthwhile to stay in the loop and become familiar with chatbots as they are being used now.
Messaging apps have a greater number of users than social media apps, which means your chatbot could potentially reach a wider audience than your social media site can alone. Chatbots are versatile and easy to use. They can be used to better inform your marketing strategy, personalise customer experience, provide instant information to users, and help maintain your online presence. They can also provide a 24-hour service, so the user who has a burning question at 4:30 am can sleep soundly knowing that your chatbot has the answer. There are criticisms of chatbots that are worth reading, and some chatbot fails that can teach us a lesson on best practice.
Why now? Because the technology is ready. The simple chatbot can be created on your tablet or laptop on freely available platforms, such as Snatchbot.me, which I’ve used on several occasions. When I say the technology is ready, I mean it is ready for instrumental use. We as a society and the technology itself is not yet ready for full-on human-machine hybrid living.
Have a look at some examples of chatbots other people have made. Al Jazeera has their own chatbot, as does the band Maroon 5. Again, looking at the spectrum of chatbots it’s clear to see how versatile this technology is. If you are a library, a university, a taxi company, or a public figure, you need to imagine the sort of experience you would like to provide for users, and the features you would like to include in your chatbot.
You should start at the beginning: find a chatbot platform. I mentioned Snatchbot earlier, but there are others that you can test out. Create an account, and create a new bot. The name you give this bot is the one that users are going to see, so think about this carefully. Some argue that naming bots isn’t always a useful strategy, that it humanises them and establishes control over their identity. If, or when, your bot becomes sentient and tells you it wants to be called Antonio and not Penelope or decides that gender is a fallacy of the human condition, it is certainly time to consider a discussion about bot pronouns. This is just a simple business bot, so please do not feel guilty for naming yours.