So this should be the year for bots, messaging apps and the conversational ui where they will start to show their heads. This text is meant to get you some basic info on where you as a consumer have available right now and might expect in the future. You might have noticed the hype that have been starting to build quite a long time ago and now seems to have hit some inflection point.
Web to Mobile
You can look at our transition from web to apps (web to mobile) that we unbundled the web to apps. When we went from web to mobile. Especially the services we used more frequently. Those now had the opportunity to find themselves at one level higher in a consumers service stack. Because most were native they also provided a better experience for consumers.
So what´s the problem?
Mainly that people don´t download new apps. And they use far fewer apps then what seems to be feasible with all the money invested in niche apps companies. Most people download an average of 0 apps per month 1. And ~84% of our time spent on apps are on 5 apps. They vary from person to person but that people use 30 apps frequently is an utopia that some circlejerking tech bros and money seems to have.
For example you can look at the publishing industry and their futile attempts to be a app on users phones. When the platform users have chosen are the likes of Facebook, snapchat, twitter etc. and that is the places where you find your content. Now those companies are the “internet” and how you find and surf the web.
So why messaging apps?
Messaging apps are one of the most frequently used apps on peoples phones. If you look at the 4 biggest social network versus the 4 biggest messaging apps the latter have more active users 2.
If reach is the name of the game in your sector and to have as many eye balls as possible watching your content and subsequently your ads. You should already be in this space (publishing, media etc.). Otherwise you are late. Could be equal to not having a social media presence when everyone is using it as their internet.
Why bots and conversations?
A conversation is a really intuitive interaction for us people. Most people have the ability to have an conversation. It relies on this paradigm and don´t make you have to learn (-isch, more on that later) a new interface. And it´s a convenient interface to implement in the messaging apps that have so many users you want to utilise.
We have things and experiments of the likes Quarts news app 3, telegram have it´s bot platform 4, Operator app 5, Forbes bot on telegram 6 (built with chatfuel 24), Uber on Facebook 7, Assi.st8, buzzfeed on line9, Outbrains messaging play 19. Products like lark16 magic17.
Then we have experiments of groups and other things on these platforms that i don´t know is a bot. But then we are in the area of discussing some existential questions like what is a bot or an api? You can have the viewpoint that these bots in their current stage are just smarter api:s and you as a user needs to learn the commands to interact with that api. And the messaging service is the command terminal of choice to do that.
There are BBC s experiments with delivering content in chat apps and such 10.
The big thing in my humble opinion are when these platforms (messaging apps) are releasing their SDKs. Facebook should be releasing it´s when they have their F8 developer conference18. Line have released their strategy with this kind of product12.
Microsoft took a big step in the game with it´s services. They are aggressively trying to not miss the next big thing like how they missed mobile and lost that computational era. They have their own offering where developer build their technology upon theirs and then extend it to the other chat messaging services and Skype.
Kik have its newly released bot platform 25. Telegram have its platform with interesting UI solution of changing the keyboard depending on the question asked. Trying to solve the what command is available as a universal UI.
How to introduce this “new” concept to regular consumers are interesting and you can see a example of this with the release of kik bot shop. http://blog.kik.com/2016/04/05/introducing-the-bot-shop/
Then we have a whole other product that needs to be mentioned when discussing this kind of technology and that is Amazon Echo 13 (the most interesting?), Facebook M22, Siri, Google Now, Cortana and Hound that also are worth mentioning with conversational paradigm in products.
What happens if they (messaging services) could interact with all these bots that could be created. We might learn that you don´t always needs to own the ui to be successful. You just need to be an important part of the consumer service in all of these different conversational paradigms. And the services that creates the best bots/api:s to interact with these products are the ones that are gonna be used and therefore win.
For example I used Assist within the Facebook messenger app. Adding the “bot” as a contact and using it I could get a cab, find a restaurant, order food, find places, find tickets, book hotels, send flowers, find a hair salon etc. A lot of use cases to have other apps are simply swallowed by these bots or these products within the messaging services.
Long term - Two main themes
There are two different solutions to use the massive user base that uses messaging apps. One with the conversational UI and on with more of the standard UI within the app.
The UI is back in most cases
As I hope you have noticed I have been quite western centric with the products mentioned. I as a consumer have always lived here. But there are something quite important missing.
China and some extent Japan?
Especially China are years ahead of us when talking chat apps as a platform for other services. There they have examples such as WeChat, Mobile QQ, Momo, Wangxin and Youni 14. Especially WeChat is really interesting15. With their official accounts you add as friends. And these accounts then access to WeChat api:s and can create apps within the platform. But this is a important distinction. The first example we have seen of a messaging app becoming a platform have not ended with what we see now being proposed by all these companies in the west. A “intellectual” service you actually have a conversation with. But it is lightapps 20 that you still have the capability to interact with somewhat similar to what we do with our full apps. But you don´t have to download an app. And you don´t have to go to their website, you can just add is as a friend in your chat app. You develop for the WeChat api and browser.
This is a example of someone purchasing mcdonalds within the WeChat app.
It´s still might be faster to press on buy then to type it.
You have the reach and users of the messaging service but you don´t have a conversation with it. So to use WeChat as a example of success with conversational interfaces is a bit disingenuous. It´s more of a example of a chat app being a platform for more services though.
We also have a example of Facebook tackling the problem with how you can monetise users within messaging apps are that you now can get your boarding pass and communication with KLM 23. It´s not a “smart” bot (and how do you define that?) but it´s where a company have a new convenient touchpoint to communicate with their customers.
And myself when I use these chat bots can happen to find myself in a loop where i forget how to get out of the current state of the conversation. The bot is not intelligent enough to understand what I want and I have forgotten what “command” to use. And as you might expect this breaks the illusion and the expectation that it´s intelligent enough. And it feels like you are typing commands that you need to remember every time you enter the conversation. Some apps try to solve this changing the keyboard input options depending on the question being answered.
Bu there are stark differences between east and wests preferred use of products. We seem to have gone for the one app for one thing and app constellations from one single company. And China have more apps that do a lot of things in the same app.
The cool science fiction solution
One of the differences between the western chat messaging stack takeover in the consumer interaction with services might simply be time. We have been at the cusp of real usable “AI” and personal assistant for some time and we might now be there 21. And thats the difference that we now have the capacity to handle these complex scenarios that arrive when you try to process natural language. Quite a lot of companies are betting on it to pan out that way.
I personally am unsure and I suspect most “normal” people that are not involved in the technology or industry knows either. My personal belief is that there always is a over hype with new tech and vision to “sell” it to the “money people” and consumers. But that we are evolving to the personal assistant and “AI” things can’t be denied. But we might not be there yet and still need some visual help still. But soon we might be there.
Messaging apps seems to be a new platform that can be the “next” platform. It might not be the transition from web to mobile. Conversational UI is cool. Especially for some use cases, reach, notifications, contact etc. But we might still need visual UI for some tasks. At least in the near future.
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