Chatbots are around for quite some time now
Even though it seems like chatbots are a new topic because they recently flood the news, they are around for quite some time now. The first chatbot was presented by Joseph Weizenbaum back in 1966. It was named ELIZA and was meant to show how computers and humans can communicate. It could simulate a dialogue with a psychotherapist, which it did by comparing the user input with its thesaurus, searching for a matching word and putting this in a preconstructed phrase. In this way it was already able to convince the users that it could understand their problems. However Weizenbaum did not claim that the system was in any way intelligent. Weizenbaums research goes back to the famous article by Alan Turing about “Computing Machinery and Intelligence“. But even if we don’t go back in time that far chatbots are not a phenomenon of 2016.
So what is a chatbot?
Why are chatbots important now (for ecommerce) and what changed recently?
Also on the technical side some things come together now in a way that makes using bots possible (in a nice and useful way). Let’s play some word bullshit bingo: cloud, big data, AI, broadband and flatrates all contribute to using chatbots.
Chris Messina (the guy who had the idea with these hashtags) proclaimed 2016 already as the year of the chatbots (article). In his opinion the whole ecommerce world will make a transformation to conversational commerce.
Active users on the biggest messaging platforms (from DMR):
- WhatsApp 1 billion
- Facebook 900 million
- WeChat 700 million
- Viber 608 million
- Tango 350 million
- Kik Messenger 275 million
- iMessages 250 million
Facebook just opened up its messenger platform for chatbots and presented some examples. Right now you can find numerous bot for the platform. One nice – and working in production – example is from airline KLM (video). But also Facebooks own “Hi Poncho” weather service.
Here is the video from the F8 conference where an example is given (at around 7 min):
Slack started out early last year to have little bot programs available that did lots of tasks for you (for example creating a google hangout, adding stuff to a to-do list etc.). You can find the available bots in the Slack App Directory.
Kik is very popular messenger platform that became famous with teenagers for its anonymity features. But also Kik made use of bots early. To get an overview you can go to the Bot Shop.
Telegram introduced chatbots back in June 2015, with a full-blown developer program (see below) and has already gained some traction.
Chatbots are available for Skype since end of March (Skype blog). Also Microsoft was so brave to let one of its chatbots out in the wide open early on Twitter – Tay.ai. The experiment failed in the eyes of most commenters, because Tay started to produce very inappropriate comments (article). But was that a complete fail? I guess no, because Tay was trolled by a bunch of people who pushed her in that direction. And what happened was actually quite amazing: Tay was able to adjust the communication to its users.
What can you do with chatbots today?
To get a nice overview of available chatbots there is the botlist directory which list bots by platform.
A nice and simple to tryout example for a chatbot working quite well is Facebooks Poncho weather bot. Simply open up the Facebook Messenger App (or the the send message button the website), look for “Hi Poncho” and start a conversation. The bot will guide you through finding out where you are and what you like to know about the weather.
Some brands took a deep dive into bots very early. Earliest adopter and pioneer in chatbots is Uber which launched its Facebook Messenger integration back last year. But also Sephora for example launched a chatbot end of March on Kik (we also talk about it in our podcast). Airline KLM introduced a chatbot on Facebook Messenger that assists in booking flights and passes on all relevant information to you throughout the travel process (video). And also fashion brand H&M launched a chatbot on Kik for outfit inspirations.
What will the chatbot future bring?
Developer Program Pages – if you want to get your hands dirty with bots
Below you can find a list of some popular messaging platforms and their developer programs. If you want to try to build your own chatbot you should start there. All pages have very good tutorials that get you ramped up quickly to get the idea and architecture of a chatbot across. Have fun coding!
- Slack Developer Pages – https://api.slack.com/bot-users
- Facebook Developer Pages – https://developers.facebook.com/docs/messenger-platform
- Kik Developer Pages – https://dev.kik.com/#/homehttps://dev.kik.com/#/home
- Telegram Developer Pages – https://core.telegram.org/bots
- Skype Developer Pages – https://www.skype.com/en/developer/
Also the following links may be interesting, as they provide services around building bots.