Introducing botwick. Want a bot? Got a bot? botwick and how to roll your own … (updated)

There are magical moments in computing when all of a sudden something that was expensive and complicated becomes easy and cheap. I remember in 1993 and 1994 looking at a web page, viewing source, copying it and creating a page. My palms got sweaty changing HTML and hitting publish and the refresh key — it was thrilling. Yes, it was slow, rough on the edges but these moments are wonderful, they feel pregnant with possibility. One of these moments is now here for bots.

This past weekend I stood up a simple text bot that you can text with in 15 minutes. It works by using Dexter to connect a phone number to a spreadsheet with triggers. It’s called Botwick, why not? Details below, on how it works and how you can build one.

Botworks?

Some background first. We have a lot of bot-work going on at betaworks. Botkit. Poncho has a slack bot, Digg is shipping a bot. And Dexter is building tools for wiring up web services to simple bot interfaces. There are a multitude of different kinds of bots out there today — command line bots, chat bots, user agent bots, spam bots — and its going to get a lot more complicated and interesting. Peter wrote about our first bot investment last fall and Matt wrote a few weeks ago about the different kinds of bots we are seeing.

On one level bots are opening up a conversational interfaces into web services and app’s — interfaces that exists inside of conversations. They are thin, context rich, and server side rendered and often fun. On another level bots are an extension of notifications. The narrative for the notification conference we did last October with Steve Gillmor was: push based alerts are evolving into notifications, into rich action based notifications into bots. Its early days for bots and thin media, Botwick is an example of what an individual can stand up, fast.

Botwick

Botwick is a text bot that you can reach at +(325) 268 5646 or (325) BOT JOHN. It took three basic steps to setup Botwick.

  1. Go to Dexter, select the bot app.
  2. Create a copy of the botwick spreadsheet and add and edit your prompts and triggers.
Bot Wick: peering inside its brain

3. Get a Twilio number. Enter your credentials into Dexter — configure the SMS URL, sheet ID and the API Credentials in Dexter.

That is it. Text your bot and you are off and running.

Detailed work steps are on the Dexter page and this is the spreadsheet that powers Botwick — you are welcome to clone and edit it. You can also add suggestions for triggers in the comments on this post. And in this post the Dexter guys explain how the triggers / expressions function in the spreadsheeet.

Ok so what can it do? There is a fairly wide range of things you can ask botwick. Some options are listed below, give it a try by texting +(325) 268 5646. By looking at the log tab on the spreadsheet you can see what other people are asking it — you can also see how the eightball falls back on Eliza chatter. Some examples of things botwick can answer — updated with additions, thank to Josh and others

“News” gets the top news from Digg
“Weather + zip”
What are my favorite “podcasts” tells you some podcasts im listening to
“Market Cap [Goog]” Finds the market capitalization of a public company
“Translate [word]” Translates from English to French
Where is betaworks
“Is BotWick an AI?”
“Date”, “time” etc.

This wiring of several different components of technology is raw, malleable — conversational and thin. Its slow and its rough but its full of possibility. Have fun. If you like, hunt it up. Thank you to Daniel and the Dexter team, Maya, Matt, Peter and of course, to Eliza.

UPDATED April 30th, After 1500 or so chats:

I enjoyed Sandi MacPherson post about SandiBot. She and I are going back and forth on interactions that work well for personal bots. I made a few updates to botwick, its IQ is now in the single digits.

botwick now sends you a vCard when you say “hi”. In the opening interaction, sending a card so you can add the bot to your address book seems useful.
“what is John reading” tells you what I am reading pulled from highlights on one of my last five articles on Instapaper (from: http://johnborthwick.tumblr.com/)
“Where is John” or “location” will tell you what area I am in now
I stood up a Twitter account for botwick — I have a few tools that are pushing things to it (like when I highlight something on Instapaper, or when I Digg something). You can’t speak back to botwick on Twitter, text only
You can see these updates in the spreadsheet that powers Botwick — copy and share.