Chatbots were the next big thing: what happened?

Justin Lee
Jun 5, 2018 · 11 min read

“…the 2016 bot paradigm shift is going to be far more disruptive and interesting than the last decade’s move from Web to mobile apps.”

Messaging was huge! Conversational marketing was a sizzling new buzzword! WeChat! China!

Plus, it was becoming clear that supply massively exceeded demand when it came to those pesky, hard-to-build apps.

“Will a single platform emerge to dominate the chatbot and personal assistant ecosystem?”

Fooled by another hype cycle

Reverential TechCrunch articles were written.

Prophetic thought leaders like Chris Messina chimed in.

Silicon Valley salivated at the prospect of talking to smart automation.

Messenger began to overflow with bots.

Slack went through exponential growth and even launched a fund for bot investment.

“I’m not even sure if we can say ‘chatbots are dead,’ because I don’t even know if they were ever alive.”

Text vs. Speech vs. GUI: a potted history

… so many different accents, people speaking too fast or too slowly, mumbling, umming and aahing.

Did you say “recognise speech” or “wreck a nice beach”?

User: “Hello.”

Agent: “Hello, what’s your name?”

User: “Candy.”

Agent: “Hello, Candy!”

User: “Let’s set the clock.”

Agent: “What is the time?”

User: “The time is 11:00 AM.”

Agent sets the clock to 11:00 AM.

Thinking in terms of Bots vs. Apps

Image result for chatbot fails
https://www.pennyapp.io

Bots for the sake of bots

Does my product need a bot? Are existing platforms able to support its functionality? Do I have the patience to build a bot that’s capable of doing what I want it to?

The totally necessary Maroon 5 chatbot in action

Inaccessibility

Image result for chatbot fails

“Consumer interest was never going to materialize until machine intelligence could get anywhere near human intelligence.

User interest depends upon AI that makes talking with a bot worthwhile for consumers.”

“Should Slack, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Kik, and others have built their own built-in bots to lead the way?

Should they have gotten more proactive with their bot funds and incubators, hiring mentors to educate participants in the Way of the Bot, or supplying engineering and design resources? Funded Strategic Bot Initiatives at high-profile partners?

In my opinion yes, yes, and yes. When it comes to platforms, developers are the users; and we don’t rely on our users to understand why or how to use our products. We have to show them.”

GUI shouldn’t be dismissed

Humans like talking to other humans

Image result for chatbots

Bots provide a scalable way to interact one-on-one with buyers. Yet, they fail when they don’t deliver an experience as efficient and delightful as the complex, multi-layered conversations people are accustomed to having with other humans on messaging apps.

Where do we go from here?

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.


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Justin Lee

Written by

Growth & Acquisition @HubSpot. In perpetual software update mode.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +479K people. Follow to join our community.