Much ado about Chatbots

messaging apps

This month, we are experiencing the arrival of chatbots on mainstream IM apps. Starting from Kik launching its bot store, to Line introducing theirs and now, Facebook is joining the team.

It seems chatbots have become the new thing. Honestly, it’s the Facebook thing that caught my eye because they are pretty much a force in the world of chat apps, what with approximately 900 million active users on their messaging app. So I have questions. What are chatbots? Why is it showering chatbots? Is this a bandwagon? A phase? What does this mean for users?

We kinda know what a bot is. It’s that annoying thing that mentions you with nonsense when you send a tweet containing a “keyword”. It’s the fly in the soup that is your twitter but that can’t be really all there is to them.

According to this academic article I dug up, chatbots are computer programs that interact with users using natural languages. They are built to simulate human conversation and have been around since the 1960s. So we’re talking things like that cute Microsoft Word Clipboard assistant thing and SmarterChild on AOL Instant Messenger. Obviously, they’ve been here for years so why are messaging apps all about them now?

Well, Osarumen says, and I quote, “[Bots] are the future of computing (we presume). People aren’t engaging with apps anymore.” So I’m guessing what this means is apps want to engage with users where they usually are – instant messaging platforms.

It’s technically companies saying “Every man and his dog has an app and this is weighing the consumer down. We need to make our services more accessible”. Way to cut down on the app fatigue, guys. Essentially, it’s showering bots because so far, they solve the problem of the lack of app interaction – just another channel for corporations to reach consumers.

What it means for users is that they get to “interact” with their preferred service suppliers in a space they are comfortable in. So you can subscribe to a bot and it pretty much pops up when you summon it.

There’s a Taco Bell bot on Slack that helps users order food, and Sephora has a bot on Kik that gives makeup tips. Users can also find comic relief in chatbots. For example, there’s a cool DJ Khaled bot on Slack. So that’s customer service/purchase and entertainment available on chat apps brought to you by chat bots.

Is this a phase? Now, THAT, I don’t know. I doubt it though. The fact that it’s catching on means that it has been successful to an extent. There are people who think the end is nigh for apps as we know them. But I’m thinking it’ll be something that’ll exist side-by-side with apps as opposed to obliterating apps totally. Anyway, I see other chat apps accommodating bots in the nearest future.

Lastly, remember when Microsoft’s bot went rogue? Haha…fun times.