On Designing Bots

The adoption curve

Ash Hathaway
Oct 10, 2016 · 3 min read

What’s up with all these bots everyone is talking about nowadays? You know, the chatbots on products like KiK, Facebook Messenger, and Slack that remind you, inform you, and help your team out. Are they just a fad? Worth the effort?

While there’s certainly a fair bit of hype they are definitely here to stay and definitely worth the effort. I have officially been bit by the bot bug (say that 3 times fast). Why you ask? Well, let’s take a look at some numbers:

Six of the top 10 most used apps globally are messaging apps¹

Over 2.5 billion people have at least one messaging app installed. Within a couple of years, that will reach 3.6 billion, about half of humanity²

Users have quit downloading apps³ and the average American spends their time on the same 3 apps. And guess what- all messaging

Essentially users are going the way of messaging which means products and advertising must as well- not to mention using messaging will open up new markets. We already know GenZ shies away from apps and email, and now spend more time sending messages than perusing social networks. And while in the US we spend time on social apps, outside the US messaging is more popular and has been for quite some time. China’s WeChat already has over 750 million monthly users with only 70 million roughly users outside of China.

Yay Bots

Obviously messaging is a huge market, and AI and bots are one way to capitalize on it. Natural language processing and unstructured data lend themselves well to messaging as the medium. Coupling AI with messaging means more tailored, personalized interactions, automation, and opportunities for extended engagement. And that’s kinda what it’s all about. How can we not just make interactions delightful- but uniquely tailored to each of our users? Bots + AI are an elegant solution.

When it comes to actually making a bot, there are multiple platforms out there to simplify the process. They’re overall far easier and less expensive than building than an app, and as AI improves so will the transactional and conversational quality of these bot experiences.

Nay bots

While the numbers and case for bots is staggering there are still valid concerns from the industry. For one, AI is still quite limited and can seem rudimentary in many ways- especially when it comes to speech services or conversational interactions. While the technology continues to improve some experts wonder if the early majority will be too impatient to wait.

Source: Wikipedia Commons

I would argue that we’re already seeing AI cross the chasm- smart home devices, personal assistants, and product recommendation adoption show evidence of this. I haven’t seen this type of adoption in bots yet, however. Even early adopters and innovators it seems don’t regularly interact with bots in a direct way. We’re seeing most users use bots for passive information- i.e.- “alert me when there’s an email/package/it’s going to rain”. There’s definitely products that are the exception which I find particularly exciting and interested to watch.

Finally, we’re not seeing a ton of revenue generated by bots right now either, but somewhat expected for new, innovative technology. This is one scenario where looking at Asian markets might help¹⁰ since they’ve been working with chatbots for much longer than other markets, but important to keep in mind real revenue vs vanity metrics.

Overall the potential payoff for bots success are well worth exploring. My thinking has certainly shifted to a “bot-centric solution” and intend on spending more time hacking. Stay tuned.

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