Ever since Mark Zuckerberg announced a free-for-all for bots on Facebook Messenger last spring, developers’ eyes turned en masse to this new opportunity. It was like the early days of Facebook App development (anyone? Bueller?) and the opening of the App store by Apple. Untold riches lay ahead for anyone who got it right. So, nearly a year after Zuckerberg’s historic announcement, how many chatbot zillionaires have been created?
In fact, how many chatbots can you name? Or — to really understand just how far bots have penetrated the online world — how many chatbots do you think your non-techie relatives or friends can name?
There are probably several reasons why bots have yet to penetrate the mainstream. Some of them are no doubt technical. Some are probably to do with the lack of progress with Natural Language Understanding. But most are due to a fundamental lack of creativity by big companies, coupled with a botched workflow that chucks bot strategy into the same pot as general marketing. As a result, traditional agencies are skimming off extra fees and making corporate marketing managers feel warm and fuzzy just ‘because’ they are actually creating a bot. ‘In the food industry? We’ll create a recipe bot for you’. ‘Travel? We’ll create a booking system. Or an tips bot for travellers.’
And on it goes.
There are exceptions. And these are usually maverick, small operations that are yet to be swallowed up and distorted by the mainstream. Eugenia Kuyda’s Luka is a ‘memorial’ bot which allows you to talk to deceased members of your family (it replicates their style by accessing their texts and email and mimicking their style). Neato, launched at CES this week, will allow you to chat with your vacuum cleaner in order to do the cleaning when you are out of the house.
It’s only when idiosyncratic applications like these begin to penetrate the mainstream that chatbots will really begin to take hold. And when companies start looking at how these services can be folded into their offering in a pure way, rather than folding them into a different version of themselves, another step will be taken.