Slackbots

Landscape, opportunities and risks


This article is part of a series covering the world of software bots. Part 1 is a general overview, part 2 focuses on Slackbots (you are currently here) and part 3 on the rise of the do it yourself companion bots.


It’s with Slack that many people have experienced (and will experience) their first direct contact with a software bot (the onboarding itself is completed by discussing with one). This messaging platform is currently a great medium for bots for several reasons:

  • crazy adoption and as a consequence a great distribution channel
  • offers a good API for building bots
  • great outsourced UI as people start to have too many software to deal with and don’t want to go on “yet another interface, yet another app”

Slackbots Landscape

Currently 3 categories dominate this landscape:

  • productivity bots: meeting scheduling, product management, team collaboration…
  • “on-demand services” interface bots: they serve as shortcuts to popular on-demand services and help you order food, a Uber or translate a text. 2 kinds of services at the moment: bots owned by the on-demand services themselves (like 99Design) and third party aggregators (access to several on-demand services from one bot).
  • Office tasks bots: they help you run your office. Room booking, office access management, virtual assistant…

These are the “low hanging fruits” categories. As Slack is a relatively young platform it’s normal that we start with “obvious” use cases and as it will mature we’ll probably see use cases that we cannot imagine now.

(As a note, “low hanging fruits” is not pejorative here. It’s just that competition is fiercer here because the ideas behind these products are “obvious”)

There are also a lot of “game” bots. That’s a very interesting use case and I have no idea whether it can be monetised or not on Slack. Anyway, not everything is business related and game bots are just fun :-)

Opportunities

1- Exploring more categories

I think we’re only scratching the surface and that we’ll see very interesting Slack bots emerge for customer support, analytics, sales, security etc…

For example I can imagine a bot for customer support which warns you when a new ticket is created and with which you can discuss to solve it. “Bot please send me the corresponding Fullstory session”, “Bot please forward this ticket to @john and notify me when it’s solved” etc…

2- Infrastructure services

If messaging platform bots take-off then it will make sense to have more infrastructure services to power the “bot economy”:

  • infrastructure to help build “conversational bots” (see the example above with the support bot)
  • infrastructure to help build script bots
  • infrastructure to provide intelligence (AI as a service for bots)
  • infrastructure to facilitate “multi-platform” presence (Slack, Hipchat, Whatsapp, email…)

3- Bot management services

At the other end of the spectrum we’ll maybe need services to help us deal with “too many bots”.

I spoke about this trend in this post, but once a space gets too crowded, users need “hubs” and “horizontal services” to discover and manage this “abundance”.

Again, if messaging platform bots take-off we might need this kind of services to deal with our hordes of bots: discovery, management (which bots are running, on which channels for which users, with which permissions, with which access to data, what’s their current status etc…)

Risks

1- Defensibility

Obviously bots which are pure Slack scripts (ex: the many “product standup” bots) are less defensible than Slack bots which are interfaces to services living outside of Slack or involving more “intelligence”.

Beware of ‘thin products’ if you want to build a real business.

2- Platform dependency

  • Risk of Slack launching competing “in-house” features. Ex: Slack buying an on-demand services aggregator and integrating it natively.
  • Risk of Slack shutting down access to its platform or to data (the Twitter and LinkedIn effects).
  • Risk of Slack getting killed.

3- “Feature only” risk

How many of these bots are “feature only”?

Additional comments

Here is the list of services on the landscape:

Productivity

Office management / virtual assistant

On-demand services

Other

Games


If you see interesting services in this space or want to discuss this topic you can reach me on Twitter or by email clement@pointninecap.com. Subscribe to our P9 channel to be kept informed of our next posts.