845 Ways to Win With Conversational Apps

You may think that Facebook releasing a basketball game in Messenger is simply in honor of March Madness, but you’d be wrong. Instead, it defeats any thinking persisting the notion that conversational apps will somehow be limited to a series of back and forth blue chat bubbles. If that’s what you think this revolution is about, you’re completely missing the point.

As I suggested in my previous post on conversational commerce, one of the primary out-of-the-gate challenges is discovery. However, discovery can be solved if its embedded directly in the conversation itself. Heck, it’s how hashtags got off the ground: the mere act of using a hashtag instructs other people how to use them!

Let me be clear: the Facebook Messenger basketball game is a mindfuck.

Watch how easy it is to 1) invoke the basketball game in Messenger, and how 2) my friend Chris Saad can learn from me by watching me type the 🏀 emoji in our conversation:

Similarly, once I learn that I can invoke bots in Messenger by starting my messages with the @ symbol (just like in Telegram)…

…the person with whom I’m chatting learns how they can invoke the bot too (this is what Chris Saad’s chat UI looks like):

These modest educational moments are huge because they gradually teach people to “program” the command line interface of conversational bots. People observe each other and then imitate the behaviors that they find funny, useful, or powerful in other conversations, spreading these services organically and virally.

So, 845 business opportunities?

The basketball game landed in Messenger yesterday:

…but Peach actually had Peachball first, launched in v1.0.15 in February:

Peachball is invoked using Magic Words:

On each chat platform, there’s a race to define the patterns of “utterances” (i.e. what people say). The winning pattern has to be easy to learn, sufficiently (re-)discoverable (in case you forget), repeatable and reusable, and able to be used when you’re impaired (read: drinking; texting with one hand while peeing; driving; etc (I endorse none of these activities!)). You’ll note that these are attributes found in the “design” of the hashtag. In the years since the introduction of the hashtag, I’ve been asked countless times how to create the next hashtag. Of course, I don’t have the answer to that question any more than I have an answer to how to make things go viral, but I have a hunch that we’re on the verge of a similar explosion in new means of increasingly powerful expression brought to us thanks to the rise of conversational services. Of course conversational services’ll still need to be really good at taking “garbage in” (to invoke a programmer’s expression about poorly structured data) without spitting garbage out, but they’ll also be able to offer convenience and facility for those savvy users that learn the special command line invocations that make magic happen.

What’s interesting about utterance patterns today is that how people have taken to emoji with aplomb — probably moreso than hashtags! Just take a look at Matthew Rothenberg’s Emojitracker to get a sense (in realtime!) for how frequently people are typing these marvels of Unicode and it’ll be no surprise that Twitter is shutting it down since there’s so much incredible behavioral data expressed therein (if you want to know how frequently people are using emoji on Twitter you now have to pay through Gnip). As users are increasingly savvy with using stickers and emoji, an incredible opportunity arises: to define the behavior attached to each of the 845 emoji in conversational apps.

Already Dominos lets you order pizza by tweeting 🍕 and #EASYORDER to @dominos:

Imagine in the future when you’re talking to friends in a group chat in Facebook and you type 🍕🍕🍕 and a phalanx of self-driving pizza delivery bots show up at your doorstep:

It’s only a matter of time before the other 845 emoji become owned by other first-mover brands and services in the conversational context.

Chris reads every response on Medium or reply on Twitter, so don’t hesitate to let him know what you think — do tag your tweets with #ConvComm. The shortlink for sharing this post is j.mp/convemoji.

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Inventor of the hashtag. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Previously: Google, Uber, Molly (YC W18).

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