Getting Next-Gen Messaging based experiences — to work

ChatBots rising

Unless you’ve been living in a hole I’m sure you’re noticed that Messaging platforms + ChatBots are the new black. Every behemoth and major player in our industry has become enamored with ChatBots and has decided to add ChatBots to their Messaging Apps.

Slack and Facebook are the two that immediately come to mind and I can’t help but think that lock-in has identified ChatBots as the next generation battlefield.

The problem with all this ChatBot activity is that the experience that these ChatBots deliver today actually sucks — and will continue to suck — until NEXT-GEN platforms and AI systems are available.

Trying to get Siri to actually do anything useful is what I’m talking about.

The one exception in this world is Amazon’s Alexa — which is the AI in their (current) Echo product offering. Its a true sleeper hit — coming out of nowhere enabling folks to start playing music, turn off the lights or…..

One can assume that we’ll be able to access Alexa via other products — soon (by X-Mas ‘16?) and that’s where this story begins.

Interactive Messages

The fact that Alexa actually DOES SOMETHING half-way useful is the key to the requirements of Next-Gen ChatBot systems. But Alexa is a completely hands off experience, and sits on your table top or counter — just waiting for you to wake it up and make a request.

Embedding ChatBots into Messaging Apps is not the same as a hands-off scenario but everyone is building their ChatBots as if it is. If one is sitting (or standing) txting and messaging and decides:

“Hey! I know — lets use our AI to find us a place for dinner tonight” - they’re just NOT gonna get a fulfilling experience!

“Hey Pancho (or Siri, or Gomez, or Cortana or…….) where’s a great place we can all go out to dinner tonight?”

If one tried that query on Facebook Messenger today they’d probably get a hodge podge of semi-related questions asking back:

  • who’s we?
  • in what neighborhood?
  • what kind of food?

The challenge with accessing ChatBots inside of Messaging is that they always need more clarification and further engagement than what seems reasonable and THAT’s why the experience sucks!

You don’t have to be Brian Solis to know that if the experience sucks, then you’re NOT gonna come back and use it again — so there goes the whole ballgame. Initial reports on Facebook’s ChatBots inside Messenger are that its a worse experience than Siri!

The answer to this dilemma is something (Slack calls) “Interactive Messages.”

Here’s an example of a calendar inserted directly into a Slack conversation.

Look familiar?

Well to all you Cola fans out there I’m sure you recognize this UX as basically the same thing that Cola does……

Cola’s version of the same “Interactive Messages” UX:

Interactive Messages are (in general) an UX (user experience) UI (user interface) that enables humans to interact with the computer (or other humans) directly inside a Messaging App.

Slack has been one of the leaders of encouraging the creation of ChatBots inside of their Messaging experience and they’ve realized that to truly provide a rich, empowering set of tools to developers — they needed to make it easy for developers to display and support “Interactive Messages.”

Interactive Messages can be buttons, sliders, menus, navigational controls — any sort of UI that requires humans intervention.

Slack’s SDK enables developers to leverage the Slack APIs (and wide range of partner APIs), build compelling ChatBots and provide ways for humans to choose between options, make decisions and in general — act like humans. Life cannot be run ONLY by the bots.

I’m stating the obvious here — but sometimes you gotta bitch slap the obvious.

Interactive Messages are the UIs that implement a PART of the overall UX the user has with their smartphone or computer.

Interactive Messages are the merger of UX/UI and Messaging. They bring to the user a perfect blend of contextually driven communication and interactive control over the choices and power of web services, content and social interaction.

But if you listen to the press, VCs and industry pundits you’d think that ChatBots were the second coming of Jesus and the end-call, be-all experience and destiny of the man-machine relationship.

If there’s one thing I can tell you is that it will NOT be ChatBots alone that will bring us our perfect future.

It’ll be a blend of ChatBots and Interactive Messages.

I see a future where our AI systems will know when its appropriate to “respond to questions” with a set of answers and when its appropriate to put up an interactive screen which asks the user for more input, range of choices, criteria and/or context.

I see a balance between user interfaces displayed on our smartphones and laptops and when we switch to “hands-off mode.”

I see a future when Interactive Messages and Chatbots work hand-in-hand to provide contextually aware experiences that actually work and give us reason to come back over and over again.

Next-Gen AI

The next HUGE challenge that ChatBots face is that they’re actually pretty dumb nowadays.

AIs have to understand more than one sentence at a time and have some sense of Memory.

AIs have to have some sense of memory, not only so that they can understand who YOU are, but also so that they can connect sentences and context together — building rich experiences that come CLOSE to what us humans expect. Memory is the perfect way to think about what Siri and M DON’T have.

Without these two fundamental Human-Machine inter-connections (memory and multi-sentences) AIs will never understand Context and give us what we really WANT.

I don’t want to have to say (explicitly):

  • Let’s contact Ted and see if he wants to have lunch today
  • Lets decide where to eat lunch today
  • Lets see if there’s a table at Ivy’s for lunch — today
  • Lets book that table — for 12:30 — today
  • Now lets let Ted know that we got a table at Ivy’s and confirm that booking with him

I just wanna say:

  • “Hey Ted — wanna do lunch today?”
  • “Ivy’s is coolio, see you there……”

Combining more than one sentence in a ChatBot query and having some sort of memory is the Holy Grail of AI and Viv is the only platform out there that can do that!

Viv is the new Next-Gen AI “Virtual Assistant” platform — coming from the same folks who created Siri. They know exactly what Siri can and can’t do ‘cause Steve Jobs had them take OUT a whole bunch of stuff so they could ship Siri!

That was the deal with the devil (literally) Adam Cheyer and Dag Kittlaus made — and now they’re back with Viv to pick up right where they left off! They’ve even got the former head of the Siri platform at Apple — Chris Brigham as a third co-founder.

Combining multi-sentences and memory means that Viv will be able to deliver ChatBot/AI experiences (Viv call them “Virtual Assistants”) that are SO MUCH BETTER than all previous attempts — that I think it’ll actually be embarrassing.

Open Platform marketplaces

How are we gonna access Viv is we already have Facebook Messenger’s M, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Google Now, etc.?

Just where will I be able to get to Viv?

That’s what I meant when I said earlier that the behemoths are now using AIs and ChatBots to extend their “lock-in” advantage. By tying M (formerly wit.ai) to Facebook Messenger ( and eventually WhatsApp and Instagram) Facebook is trying to keep ALL of their customers on the Facebook platform — forever.

By building Siri into every iPhone and iPad, Apple is trying to keep ALL their customers — well you get the point.

Distribution is everything.

That’s why the Siri guys sold Siri to Apple in the first place = distribution.

So now Viv has to compete with their earlier generation sister Siri?

Or maybe not.

Maybe Viv can establish an open marketplace where ALL the ChatBot and AI developers can find a home.

Maybe Viv can do what so many other “open marketplace” vendors were never able to do — create an open distributed network of independent developers — so that everyone can have a “piece of the Pie.”

For those of you who know me — you’ll know that THAT’s been MY Holy Grail for over 15 years and it sure looks like Viv is about to do that!

I’m only speculating here — but it sure looks like Viv could work WITH Apple and Facebook to deliver compelling ChatBot experiences to users.

Not everything has to be about lock-in — especially when you can’t deliver the goods.

Viv delivers the goods.

So (in summary) — to create a Next-Gen Messaging experience what’s needed is:

  • a balance between ChatBots and Interactive Messages
  • AIs with multiple sentences and memory
  • an open marketplace so that we all can benefit and prosper

The only left to talk about — is tools.