There’s a Ghost in your Chat

You don’t get to see them constantly, they do a couple of things and they do it extremely well. Anyone can build one. Chat Integrations and ChatBots are now a standard. All you need is an API and you can have your business land within the walls of thousands organisations.

Doesn’t it suck when you are working and you have dozens of windows or tabs open on your screen and you’re trying to be productive? All those buttons, labels and data to look at, spread everywhere. That’s what we’re exposed to on a daily basis. Things are all over the place.

Well there’s a trend out there that is trying to disrupt this, dubbed as ChatOps.

If you have no idea what ChatOps are, I lifted this example from PagerDuty’s blog:

While in a chat room, team members type commands that the chat bot is configured to execute through custom scripts and plugins. These can range from code deployments to security event responses to team member notifications. The entire team collaborates in real-time as commands are executed.

In the last couple of years the way we interact with our colleagues at work has drastically changed. We shifted away from e-mails, albeit we still use these heavily for other forms of communication, and decided to build ourselves a bunch of new home with IRC-esque communication tools.
Initially the idea of real-time collaboration was pushed to us in the form innovative products such as Google Wave (RIP) then Google Docs, followed in most recent times by HipChat, Slack, Skype for Business (lol) — and their countless clones/offspring.

Just like those old, antiquate chat platform have a channel-oriented system. Each #channel usually has a scope or a topic: topic-driven chatrooms mean that we can now openly discuss our work with our team..oh and on top of that, unravel our most dank GIFs, Memes and Emojis. Who doesn’t love those?

With such apps (on your desktop, laptop or touch device) will allow you to stream dialogues over the ether, like infinite endless “chats” . 
Personally I find that most times they make me feel like I am missing out when I am not constantly checking what is being discussed…but that’s another story for another time…


Venting Frustration or Helping Collaboration?

Communicating openly is great: We share our progress, our doubts, our questions, our views.. it lets every member, past and future, of the organisation get on the same page and aware of the status of advancement of work.

For this conversations to become really meaningful however we realised we need to be constantly alerted and backed by real data.

The fact, the problem rather, is that we cannot have one app for each service we use. We need a common interface for notifications that is for everyone.

With more and more teams having remote workforce is therefore obvious that using team communication applications as a fallback for all work notification/alerting etc. is a convenient solution.

For example:
I can “use” the Slack app notification and communication system. I will set up a trigger to alert me when a server has crashed by mentioning my name in the #status channel.
Milliseconds later I get a push notification and the team and myself are in touch inside the #status channel to discuss our next steps to resolve issues

We love input boxes

Now, close your eyes and try to picture for a second what your Slack, HipChat or other internal team communication tool looks like. You’ll probably identify these elements:

  • A list of nicknames and a list of chatrooms somewhere on the side
  • A wall, where text and other interactions are shown, in the middle
  • An input box, at the bottom.

An input box! How delightful …

This is the only way for you to interact with the inside world of this communication network, but at the same time it’s your only gateway to communicate with the outside world, without losing track of the information flowing on your screen.

So humans, greedily, decided to create “slash commands” and “triggers” so that they could execute functions to run in parallel to chatting.

Whether you’re using a native integration, a custom command or an external bot you’ll have to go through this input box, this gateway.

Why is this important? Sometime’s you’re having a heated conversation and pulling data to show evidence that supports your claims helps a lot, other times you want to investigate the state of your hardware or some other analytic data (server loads, traffic, open customer support tickets just to cite a few).
Whatever trigger you might think of has never been as easy as this to set up.

There are countless of solutions to get started:
Here’s a list of slack bots you can have
Here you can create a bot from any API

BTW: Feel free to tweet if you have any specific request I bet I can help you :)

You can interact with the outside world, on demand from inside one app…let’s dig deeper!

Invisible, in-line, API-powered

Invisible

A year ago, a few invisible apps appeared. By invisible it is meant that these apps are not available on the app store as a download, in fact, moments after signup through conventional web form, they are usable by simply sending an SMS to a number.

Whether there is an artificial intelligence or a human operator on the other side of the screen, it doesn’t matter: You are effectively interacting with an application, through a text-based interface and using the SMS protocol to dispatch your commands/requests and similarly, view the output of such queries — in text based format. Sounds like something from the 90’s right?

An SMS interface is extremely simple to use, there are no buttons in the way unlike apps nowadays, no distractions, only one way to operate: enter commands, press button to submit.

Apps that work like this are MAGIC (us), gobutler (de/uk), AWESOME (uk)

Lately there has been a boom in artificial intelligence powered assistants that operate by learning from our interactions with SMS or email.

Thinking about it, SMS and email are just another form of applications that enable “chatting”.

Anything which can be used for human communication can be transformed into a powerful A.I. powered assistant.

Whether its one, ten or hundred functions I can trigger actions from an input box, i don’t need any button other than the send key.

Thinking of it, Google has a large set of functions embedded into their omni-visible search bar: Translation, Word definitions, Unit conversions just to name a few of the ones I use most.

In-line

Facebook M, Slack bots, HipChat integrations — are extremely popular in-line integrations examples that allow you to achieve actions through applications that you already have and know how to use. The idea is that because you have installed one of those app for work or pleasure, you can use a plethora of more applications from within.

Leo wants you to fave my article so your friends can read it too

If we take a look at Slack’s page for integrations, well.. wow. People are really into integrations.

Each one of these lets you create a bridge between one of those great services you need in your daily workflow and your communication platform.

They’re all powered by APIs.

You can trigger anything by sending a given command with a series of arguments while on the other side of the table, a system processes your request and produces an output back into the chat channel.

For example the famous giphy trigger is “/giphy” followed by a search term or keyword such as

/giphy swag

and you get

API-powered

A few years ago everyone was wondering how and when the API economy would boom. 💣
Everyone seemed to have a service behind a login page and you would access it and if you wanted more people to access it you would have to share credentials (meanwhile your passwords probably were like companyname123).

It was the case of your email marketing tool, your web-analytics tool or your customer support portal…

But today, oh boy, we got APIs. APIs are part of your business plan, everyone has an API or they strongly feel like they need to build one.

If 4–5 years ago we’d ask, “Who has an open API as part of their business strategy?”, not many hands would rise.

Today things are different.

If you have a good documented and accessible API today, not only you will make developers happy, you will be able to let anyone integrate your service with all the tools that matter in their workflow. 
Additionally you have a plethora of platforms like like Zapier and co. make integrations with Slack a breeze.

Yesterday it was IRC, today it’s Slack, Telegram, Whatsapp, tomorrow?

What to expect going forward

I want to see the day where my operating system is a just a window with an input box which spawns different views depending on what its being asked.

I’m not a UI designer but ideally we won’t have unique apps anymore, instead a somewhat capable A.I. that can process natural language and output data in the best capable format. All within one view. No more need to download multiple apps.

You want your pictures? You get to see pictures from Instagram, Facebook, Picasa, Flickr all inside the app.

You want to chat with work? You got it.
You want to book a taxi or find opinions on which restaurant you should visit nearby you? You get all of that.

That’s all I’ve got for you today! Hope you enjoyed the read!

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