Will Chatbots Go Mainstream?

Chatbots have yet to find their identity.

Wait What? Catboxes are the future of the Internet?

It’s already pretty clear that most of the big bets being placed by Google, Amazon and Microsoft are in Voice User Interfaces, rather than text-driven approaches. Facebook is probably on the losing end this time, despite all its best efforts.

Voice is going to ultimately play a much bigger role in the transformation of internet communications, because, well, you don’t have to type it, you can just say it, which is easier. Sorry, but it’s really as simple as that.

Chatbots aren’t going to turn the lights on. Chatbots aren’t going to change the playlist you’re listening too while you’re taking a roast chicken out of the oven. If you need to know the weather when you’re about to open the front door you’re not going to use a chatbot. And on, and on.

So is the chatbot just a passing fad?

No, but it’s not a revolution either.

If you see the VUI as one end of the spectrum and the pure GUI at the other end, a chatbot sits somewhere along that line, a hybrid, call it part “Text User Interface” or“TUI” and part GUI. With Alexa and Google Home VUIs we get it. We talk to them and they do stuff. We’re still looking for the true identity for chatbots or TUIs. So here goes…

How about this.

Chatbots work best where interaction via the written word is vital to communicating information.

The test should be pretty simple.

If it’s easier to do something with an app or just by making a phone call (gawd, how utterly old-fashioned), then you don’t need a bot.

If you’re building a website or a landing page, or selling stuff online, or managing projects with a networked team, or helping customers, or facilitating mobile financial transactions, or setting meetings, or navigating a taxonomy, then bots will have your back. That might mean that a bot replaces your website, CRM or CMS completely, or partially, or is just an adjunct to it. But in design terms, the chatbot of today is really a big feature or a close cousin of the old fashioned website, and there’s nothing wrong with either or those descriptors.

Of course, suggesting chatbots are merely an incremental improvement to our current approach rather than a fundamental realignment is definitely not sexy. I know that. But we need to be careful not to promise too much, or we’ll attract too many users whose first impression is “what’s the big deal?”

So What Is “The Big Deal”?

The big deal is when the everyday user can just talk to a VUI or type into a TUI and stuff happens. In other words the tech works your way, not the other way around. Mainstream users couldn’t give a hoot what’s under the hood. They just expect it to work without having to learn much. Which means that that the AI, NLP, and Machine Learning have got to reach high-confidence levels in open multi-turn conversations.

We’re a long way from that.

So in the meantime, let’s get a little humility. Pace yourself. And the future will happen when it’s supposed to.

My name is Chatbot Copywriter and I approve this message.