From The Jetsons’ Rosie to Star Wars’ C-3PO, robots have fascinated us for generations. It’s no wonder, then, that with the right combination of technology and need, chatbots are the new buzzword.
So what exactly is a chatbot, and what do we do with one? In this guide, we’ll talk about where it all began, what we’re doing with the technology now, how you could get one and what the chatbot space would look like in the near future.
What exactly is a ChatBot?
To put it simply, a chat bot or a virtual avatar is a smart online identity that communicates with a company or a person digitally on your behalf, usually via text or messaging apps.
As a digital avatar, a chatbot can turn anything you want into a conversation. You can continue to do what you love doing while your bot interacts with the world as you! Depending on how much you tell your chat bot about yourself, the closer it will be to being your digital twin.
Remember when you’d call a company’s customer service number and be made to punch a number to pick a menu option? Bots can currently do that and way more, all via text.
While today most chat bots exist on messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger and Slack, they’ve come a long way since the very first bot came to be. Let’s take a look.
History of chat bots
Back in the 1960s, MIT professor Joseph Weizenbaum developed ELIZA, the first ever chatbot, that could “interact” with people like a psychotherapist would. He used a script that would recognize certain patterns and keywords, and generate a response accordingly – usually asking the patient how they felt about the issue at hand.
Initially developed as a parody of “the responses of a non-directional psychotherapist in an initial psychiatric interview”, and meant to prove how superficial communication between man and machine could be, he was surprised by how deeply connected people became with the program, some even forming an emotional bond with it.
ELIZA inspired a whole host of chatbots (or chatterbots) after it, like ALICE, Mitsuku, Albert One, and probably the most popular of the lot, SmarterChild. Developed in 2000, SmarterChild took advantage of the popularity of text messaging services and added the very cool ability to process natural language – or, simply put, it understood humans speak. And responded!
SmarterChild was eventually able to handle a wide variety of topics, ranging from sports and weather to news and movie timings. In many ways, SmarterChild paved the way for services like Siri.
It’s now hard to imagine a world without Siri and other voice-based assistants, but a few years ago, the notion of talking to your phone to tell it what to do seemed ludicrous. We’re on a similar brink right now, with chatbots being touted as “the next big thing”, but no one is quite sure how or why.
The most acceptable opinion seems to be that chat bots will replace most apps. The time and effort required, not only to build an app, but also to download and use one seems to negate its advantages.
We’ve all felt the familiar twinge of annoyance when our phones have no space for new apps, or we just don’t want more boxes on our already overcrowded phone screens. Companies realize this, but still want to connect with their customers – Enter the Chatbot.
The biggest advantage a chat bot currently has is that it requires no additional thinking, installation or programming. We all know how to text – there is nothing new to adapt to. It’s the easiest thing in the world to shoot off a quick text!
Is this the only scenario though? It’s early days yet, and this is one use case that seems to be very popular and easy to adapt. Messaging apps have taken over, and are now more widely used than most social networks. It’s no surprise then that businesses are targeting millennials would want to ride the wave of popularity and get texting.
Messaging apps have taken over, and are now more widely used than most social networks. It’s no surprise then that businesses targeting millennials would want to ride the wave of popularity and get texting too.
What are the very many applications of the Chatbot?
Most big companies are rushing to build a chat bot that not only connects with their customers, but also showcases their “personality”. While most people can see the appeal of AI-powered conversational interfaces for business, personal chatbots are fast becoming the new “it” thing.
It’s easy to see that messaging platforms are the new black, what with Snapchat, Messenger, Whatsapp and other players accounting for 75% of social activity among millennials. As Canadian chat app Kik Interactive put it, “first there were websites, then there were apps, now there are bots – 2016 is Year of the Bots.”
For anyone who has ever felt the need to create a website – whether it is for business or personal use – chat bots are the modern spin on that. What if you could showcase your work and ideas, but in a far more personal way?
Imagine being able to chat with your favorite artist, being able to see their latest pieces, and commissioning something for yourself – all in one place. Or, imagine being able to talk to your favorite restaurant’s chef and ask them what flavor of soup they’d recommend.
What holds most of us non-coding folk back, though, is the technology and effort involved in creating one of these assistants for ourselves.
With a platform like Bottr, where all that’s required is a simple sign-up, the process is now so much more accessible and convenient. Bottr is to chatbots what sites like Wix and WordPress were to websites. All that’s required is a quick login, a few tweaks here and there, and voila you’ve got yourself a dedicated chatbot.
With all this technology at your fingertips, the only question that remains is how you use it. Sandi MacPherson talks about her vision of the future, where a bot can literally be everyone’s very own personal assistant. Sure, it seems far-fetched right now, but the notion that one day, possibly in the near future, a virtual assistant can schedule your meetings for you, or tell your friends what they can bring to your next party is not that improbable at all.
For Businesses: Customer service and Branding
Right now, the most well-loved chat bots aren’t necessarily bots that are changing the face of the world, but bots that are fun to use. Poncho, for example, is a chatbot that tells you what the weather is like in your area. Sure, you could Google that, but Poncho makes it seem like you’re talking to a friend.
Then there’s 1-800-Flowers, that lets you order flowers without needing to sign up or login on their website thus improving customer service. This just goes to show that bots needn’t be an either-or situation, but rather an elegant addition to an already blossoming digital life.
For Influencers and Bloggers: Marketing, Online Identity and Fan engagement
Another emerging trend is the rise of peer influencers. Marketing via social media is no longer a joke, and social media stars are the new brand ambassadors all the big corporates want. As a result, social media fame is a very real thing to aspire for. These are the next wave of celebrities, and everyone wants to know everything about them.
Chat bots are ideal in this situation. Influencers can connect with their fans on a very personal level, leveraging their celebrity-like status to talk about issues close to their hearts or even promote the companies that sponsor them. Chat bots essentially make a business transaction not feel like one, because there’s the sense that you’re interacting with a friend who happens to have excellent taste. More on how chat bots can be used to boost influence, reach and engagement.
Hassle-free Replacement of Social Networks
Social media is almost ubiquitous now. People have gotten used to getting daily, and sometimes even instantaneous, updates from people in their circle. It comes as no surprise, then, that people are hungry for information. We’re constantly bombarded with feeds from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Snapchat, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
There is so much information about ourselves that people would love to know, and that we’d love to share. However, it’s getting harder and harder to keep track of which friend is active in which way on what social media channel.
Bots can automate all of that, meaning all you have to do is find the person you want to know more about. Or, if you’re the one with a chatbot, all you have to do is post your stuff in one place. Isn’t that the ultimate goal for any new technology – that it makes your life that much simpler?
Chatbots For You, Me And Everyone
Let’s look at a for-instance here. You’re a regular person, you’re not a celebrity or an influencer or an entrepreneur. Why would you need your very own chat bot? Let’s say you have a great affinity towards pinning chocolate-based recipes on Pinterest. Maybe your bot could tell your friends why you love Pinterest over Tumblr, or it could explain which brand of chocolate you love to work with. You could even share your opinions on white vs dark chocolate – is it even chocolate? – via your personal chatbot.
Or you could just be looking for good ol’ employment, you want to showcase your skills and stand out. A chatbot resume could give you that much desired edge.
Consider the immense possibility that currently lies before you. A bot gives you flair, no matter who you are, because it takes what makes you unique and showcases it.
What are the pros and cons of chatbots?
Let’s start with the good stuff: all the big sharks – Facebook, Slack, Kik, WeChat – are getting in on the bot action, which must mean that everyone believes there’s something there worth investing in. Apps can be cumbersome, frustrating and sometimes a waste of precious phone space. In the same space, bots are being touted as a replacement for apps, and with good reason.
Advantages of chat bots
Bots are a quick and easy solution to the app clutter problem, allowing a comfortable customer experience that’s intuitive and immediate. There is no learning curve and no advanced skills are required — just plain and simple conversation. What seems like a shift in perception now is actually just going back to the basics.
We all know how to talk to each other – we do it all the time. And with a smartphone in almost everyone’s pocket, texting is almost second nature. It only stands to reason that text-based interfaces similar to our chatbot would be the most comfortable way to adopt a new technology.
A big plus of getting a chat bot for yourself is that it’s currently the coolest way to stay ahead of the curve. It’s new, it’s mysterious, it’s different. What better way to stand out from the crowd and the noise than by being a trendsetter?
Another feature we’ve talked about is the ease of use, compared to traditional apps. How many of us can really afford to hire an app developer to make us an app? And, realistically, who’s going to download YET another app? What’s a regular Joe to do? Chat bots are the magic-wand solution. Consider the appeal of sending a quick text to your newest customer or fan via your uber-trendy chat bot. Instant brownie points!
This sounds amazing, but what’s the catch? Well, as with any new technology, there are going to be a few hurdles to cross before it’s seamless enough to be a total pleasure.
The biggest glitch at this point seems to be that the technology isn’t quite what we think it is. Computers still run on code, and code is made by humans. We’ve spent all our lives learning to interpret language, but in human terms, computers are still toddlers.
It’s easy enough for a computer to understand individual words, but understanding nuances like tone, sarcasm, colloquialisms and slang are another ballgame entirely. That’s what makes a conversation seem natural, and, sadly, artificial intelligence just isn’t that smart. YET.
Another drawback is the geeky stuff. How are you supposed to build a bot if you don’t know a single line of code? Up until this point, messenger platforms allowed you to build your own chatbots and use their services. And there are tons of companies that promise an easy solution to your coding worries. But what if it could be even easier?
The upside is that AI is the new buzzword, and EVERYONE wants to get there. We’re seeing game-changing developments, and it won’t be long before it reaches a stage where we actually enjoy talking to smart machines. For now, though, we’ll just have to accept that a computer (or a chat bot) is going to respond like a computer, and not like a human.
We at Bottr hope that, one day, no one feels constrained by any of this. This platform is meant for people who want the ease of a personal chatbot without any of the work.
How do you build a chatbot?
You could go the traditional route and develop a chat bot yourself, or you could hire someone to do it for you. At least, those were the only options.
Platforms like Messenger and Slack allow you to build chatbots to use on their stores, and there are tons of companies out there that will help you with the technology. A little coding, some drag-and-drop, keyboard-punching and you have a bot. A chat bot platform like Bottr on the other hand, is a different ballgame entirely – this a platform that lets you create a conversational bot without any pre-required coding skills.
We could go into the details of how they’re built, what platforms are available, and what the pros and cons of each of those platforms are. But let’s focus on what we can do with these chatbots in the first place.
Are you a small business that wants to reach out to your customers in a non-spammy way? Are you a freelancer who wants to stop dealing with all those annoying questions you get asked a zillion times? Are you a doctor who has to repeat the same speech to dozens of patients on a daily basis? Are you just a really funny person with lots of pithy one-liners? Whoever you are, you a chatbot could work wonders.
But wait! What if there was an easier way? What if all you had to do was figure out what your chat bot would say? Bottr.me is a highly unique platform in that it does all the work for you. All you have to do is teach your virtual avatar to talk like you. Easy-peasy!
What is the future of chat bots?
We all love the idea of our own personal talking robots. The idea that a “bot” can turn your hot water on, send that e-card to your great aunt Hester, or order your favourite Starbucks coffee while you’re on your way there is the ultimate dream at this point.
Are we there yet? Not entirely. Will we get there? Yes, and in the very near future! Amazon, Google and Apple are doing amazing things with their voice-based assistants, and it’s not long before chatbots catch up.
Technology tends to grow alarmingly fast, and this is one area where everyone seems to want to outdo the others. This can only mean good things for you and me – the more people we have working on it, the better and faster it gets. Who knows where we’ll be in a few short months!
We at Bottr see a future where a personal chatbot is as much a part of your identity as your social networks – maybe even more. We see a future where a bot collates all your social data, and shares it with your friends for you. We see a future where everyone has a bot, just like everyone has a smartphone, or everyone has a Facebook account. We see a future where we collect everything about you into one little bot – a chat bot that talks for you, a chat bot that talks about you, a chat bot that talks like you.
We may not get there immediately, but this is the future we plan to build. A world where everyone is connected, where getting anything you want is as easy as asking a question, and ultimately, where your world is simplified.