Why do developers love Chatbots? We don’t need to worry about the front-end unlike apps.
“No need to worry about cross-platform compatibility.
Or camera edge-cases.
Or push notifications.
Or the front-end in general.
Facebook Messenger deals with all of that for you.”
- How To Make Chatbots and Stop Worrying*
*(this book does not exist. I made it up.)
To understand the advantages of chat bots and chat bot platforms like Facebook Messenger, think of these platforms as Front-end as a Service (FaaS).
We are all familiar with Backend as a Service (BaaS), like Firebase, Parse, CouchDB, etc, that deal with the backend for you so you can focus on creating the front-end of your app and not have to worry about the backend.
Chat bot platforms act in the opposite direction; they deal with most of the front-end problems for you so you only have to worry about the backend.
As a developer, I don’t have to worry if my chat bot is device compatible because Facebook Messenger* is compatible with all devices (iOS, Windows phone, Android, Desktop browser, etc). Unlike building my own app and worrying about which device OS I should prioritize first and how many people on the team
should be dedicated to each platform, my chatbot is instantly compatible across all devices. I get to piggyback off of Facebook’s work.
*I will use Facebook Messenger as the example throughout the rest of the piece. But the same FaaS thinking can be applied to Kik, Telegram, etc. I chose Messenger simply because they have over 1 billion monthly active users. Did I mention that you only need to build on one backend and your chatbot will work on all of these chat platforms?
Unlike building my own app, I don’t have to deal with thousands of infuriating camera crashing edge-cases from millions of different android phone manufacturers. Facebook deals with all those camera problems, most of which I probably didn’t even know existed, for me. Facebook has a team dedicated to Messenger’s camera. And I get to piggyback off of their work by using Messenger’s in-app camera.
For access to the device’s microphone, I can just piggyback off of Messenger’s in-app microphone.
For payment processing, Facebook Messenger integrates with Stripe and is going to integrate with Paypal and other payment processing platforms soon.
I don’t have to deal with how fast the app loads, optimizing garbage collection for memory in Android, reference counting in iOS, etc. Facebook Messenger already does that for me.
For push notifications, I don’t have to deal with the enormous hassle of working with GCM, Apple APNS, etc. Facebook deals with that for me.
For geo-location… you get the point.
Here is the best part. Whenever Facebook adds a new feature (i.e: payment transactions) to Messenger, my chatbot gets it for free.
Oh, and this chatbot platform “FaaS”, unlike BaaS like Parse, is free.
And it’s not going away anytime soon because Messenger is not going away anytime soon. Facebook will continue to work on making Messenger better because Messenger IS Facebook. And I get to continue piggybacking off of Facebook’s hard work.
Chat bots are also the best way to MVP my product.
I can build fast.
Unlike building an app where I am limited to the programming language and IDE of the platform’s choice, chatbot gives developers the freedom to choose.
Unlike updating on the App Store where I have to wait 4 days for approval, I just need to change my backend code and I’m done. No more nervously waiting for days for Apple to approve or reject a critical update and stop my agile development in its tracks. If someone reports a bug, I can fix it immediately.
And apparently startups in China agree too.
“Developing official WeChat accounts has become so popular in China that new startups sometimes test their version 1.0 product on WeChat’s platform before dedicating resources to building and marketing a standalone native app.” — Connie Chan, Partner at Andreessen Horowitz VC.
For info on the business advantages of chatbot and why businesses are so hyped about chatbots, read this. (Hint: Almost every business from insurance to fast food wants to build their own app. But customers don’t want to install an app for every business. I explain how chatbots solve that problem).
Great chatbots people have built that shows the possibilities/capabilities of chatbots:
1. Streak Trivia: A trivia game that you can play with your friends and players around the world and even against past games.
2. Chatible: They hacked together a way to connect you with another person on messenger to chat with anonymously.
3. Try Out glasses: Take a picture of yourself and it puts different types of glasses on your face. Works surprisingly well.
4. Trim: Find and Cancel Subscriptions with a text ($2.2M seed round) for you. Cancel those annoying subscriptions without hassle.
5. Whole Foods: Find the perfect recipes (official chatbot of whole foods) by messaging the bot.