24h after the launch of Mica, The Hipster Cat Bot 😼
About half a year ago we launched the project LIKE A HIPSTER, which is a hyper-local discovery app, that helps users find venues with a hipster vibe in their neighborhood. And since this app acquired more success than expected I was exploring further ideas how to develop and monetize the app and also played around with new technologies that crossed my way. So I recently developed big features like the iOS version and a web version with Ionic and added nice, smaller useful features such as the Hipster Heat Map to the LIKE A HIPSTER apps.
Facebook just recently announced at their F8 conference that they finally opened their messenger API for bots and the first bots started to be approved by Facebook. Only a few days later Hi Poncho, a Facebook weather bot, raised 2M of funding.
The idea (and opportunity) behind these bots is that there is not such a huge barrier to use it in contrast to apps which have to be installed separately. You’d need a phone with an app store, also have to remember your password to install an app, need to have free space on the device and a good connection to download it etc… and other obstacles to get your app delivered to the user.
In contrast to that 900M people worldwide are already using Facebook Messenger and now with a chat bot you can reach them easily. And since Facebook also launched messenger.com as a separate website you can now use the chat in a browser without an app.
I was always eager to try new stuff (and my dear friend Thomas Schranz kind of pushed me too) so I started to develop a chat bot for hipster recommendations using the Facebook Messenger infrastructure — and Mica, The Hipster Cat Bot 😼 was born.
Mica was (re)born
Mica, my cat and employee #1 of LIKE A HIPSTER, was already our Head of Communications (HoC) for LIKE A HIPSTER, so we decided to keep her at the communication front and use her as the “front man” of your company.
Also what could possibly be cooler than to chat with a cat?
So I started with the technical stuff: I set up a (free) root server on AWS and started to develop a quite simple Java web app to communicate with the Facebook Messenger web-hook of this new Facebook app. To get the right venues for the app I used the same technique I already have used for LIKE A HIPSTER: The service fetches data from the Foursquare API, Yelp API, Google Places and Facebook Places using specific keywords and combines the results to find the best hip venues.
The trickiest part was to implement the REST endpoint itself since there is no available Java API implementation, but after that was accomplished it was just fun to design how to communicate with the users. I developed some basic stuff like how to react on a messages like “Hello” or “Thank you!” and check for hipster venues when users send their location as text or as location attachment (only possible in Messenger app). I also programmed random answers with text and cat images when no hip places were found to keep the users entertained and implemented Google Analytics API to track (anonymized) user behavior (see some results below).
After two days of programming the first version was ready to be released, but it took never ending two weeks to get the Facebook app approved. In the meantime I used the time to brush up the bot and also presented it at the Demo Night #4.
After the Facebook app was finally approved as one of the first bots globally (!) we decided yesterday midday to launch it on Product Hunt although we thought it might already be already a little bit too late that day.
Quickly we redesigned the logo to what it is now and updated the images to make it more fancy, yeah, you can guess it: more hipster!
After Mica, the Hipster Cat was posted on Product Hunt I was just totally stunned and watched the server logs because I was a little bit worried about the flood of requests that may come in, but the server didn’t crash and so I was happy.
I also found out that people tend to chat with the bot in a simple way to find out, which keywords were checked such as “hi” or “help” or “thanks” which worked pretty well, but also some unexpected stuff was sent such as questions that had to be answered what I do not cover at the moment.
Numbers, Numbers, Numbers!
I was also pretty surprised to see how many people used the Cat Bot right from the spot:
In 24 hours we had ~300 unique visitors (in contrast to that: the LIKE A HIPSTER Android app had such a number after about 4 days) who sent about 1000 messages in total.
The most frequent cities requested were — not very surprising — Vienna, Berlin, Paris, London, and San Francisco. A third of the users was sending their GPS location directly, which gives a more accurate result for hipster places.
I’m currently working on a Telegram bot to cover its users too — they recently announced to serve 100M monthly active users.
And obviously I’m going to have a look at the current machine learning APIs such as wit.ai and api.ai, keep in touch with other (Viennese) companies such as horat.io that also develop chat bots and connect in meetups such as Vienna Bots Meetup #1.
These are quite exciting times surfing on the first wave of something new, that might be a game changer for the whole industry like blogs were before in 2004 or apps in 2008.
So keep in touch and chat! :)