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Chatbots have been around for years. You’re probably most familiar with the bots roaming Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and Slack. Lately, the aforementioned social networks and communication tools, as well as other big communication-focused companies, have started building hundreds and thousands of them.
But why? What’s the value of this software? Who’s building it and what for?
With bots getting more advanced, there’s talk of chatbots replacing or merging with apps and websites in the near future. How likely is that to happen though? Let’s break it down and get to the bottom of this.
What Are Bots For?
The most common form of bots are robots that you can interact with through chat: chatbots. They live where you communicate, mainly in messaging apps and networks. Besides simulating a conversation, there are bots that you can use to retrieve different forms of information, such as a weather bot, a bot to alert you about something, to add an event to your calendar, or to play a game with you.
Bots and their functions differ depending on the focus of the network. Slack bots will help you perform work-related tasks like compiling to-do lists, while messenger apps like Kik and Snapchat have bots that will diversify your interaction with other users and with the network. There’s a bot that analyzes your tweets and mimics them, and a bot that sends people Vine videos.
Some bots are more advanced than others and can perform more than one task. A good example is an X.ai bot. Its main function is scheduling meetings for you, but really it’s a full-scale personal assistant. Once you sign up and add the bot to your email thread, it takes over all the simple conversations needed to schedule an appointment, adds it to your calendar, and sends you an alert when it’s finished.
Who’s Building These Bots?
The same companies that are building apps that you use on your phone are now building bots. Silicon Valley powerhouses like Facebook, Google and Microsoft are betting heavy on bots. According to Facebook, apps are too complicated and people have no interest in installing new ones anymore. At the same time, if you integrate your service or product into a messaging app that people use on a daily basis (like Facebook Messenger), they’re more likely to use your product or service.
Facebook Messenger Bots: Developers vs. Users
For now, developers seem to be a lot more enthusiastic about the software than users are. Kik Messenger has announced a bot store, and Facebook Messenger has more than 30,000 active bots operating inside the app. Developers see great prospects in connecting people with businesses more directly by automating their interactions, but so far users haven’t expressed the same attitude.
On the contrary, users who tried the software reported Messenger bots to be particularly slow and ineffective in solving the tasks.
Indeed, what’s the point of using a weather bot that typically responds “within an hour”? And that’s not all the critique that Poncho has received. The users complained that it only sometimes understands their queries. And when it doesn’t, it gives them hilarious (but rather annoying) snarky replies, which is a part of Facebook’s attempt to make it more human. Another concern users have about Facebook Messenger bots is the absence of a clear system: even though there are thousands of bots, they’re extremely hard to find.
Besides, most people simply don’t see the point. Bots that exist on the platform right now not only fail at solving any major problems, but also make a user experience on Facebook more confusing and frustrating.
Bots vs. Apps
Not so long ago bots were seen by some as “the new apps/websites.” Users have cooled down toward apps, and so the companies looked to bots as a new path to reach consumers. However, bots replacing apps is quite unlikely, and here’s why.
Most Bots Are One-Dimensional
The developers haven’t stopped building apps in favor of creating bots. It’s more of a case of building bots for a specific app, especially ones that can improve customer service or simplify complex transactions. That way, bots might eventually replace some parts of the apps or merge with them, but they won’t kill the apps completely.
Bots Aren’t Smart Enough (At Least Not Yet)
There’s a lot of hype around the AI that propelled bots into the mainstream in the first place. However, AI that we have today isn’t quite ready to make bots smart enough to properly interact with the users. While the robots can gather the stats and recommend you a restaurant, they’re not yet capable of maintaining a complex conversation. That’s why some of the bots are still powered by humans.
So Are Bots Still Relevant?
Facebook’s been pushing bots for about a year now. The result? 70 percent failure rate. Which means that bots could only handle 30 percent of requests without human intervention. And it’s not the first time bots didn’t do so well on a platform, with the Microsoft Tay social media bot being one of the most famous letdowns.
It’s obvious the original gold rush towards new tech is wearing off. And although some companies are still interested, many brands are losing their faith in bots. Why? It seems like bots are failing to meet the expectations. When users want personalized, human-like assistance from bots, all they get is a number of programmed reactions. And as soon as you go off script, the bot fails.
Bots That We All Deserve
No matter how grim things are looking for chatbots, it appears that not all bots are doomed. Besides, chatbots are only in trouble because the developers didn’t manage to deliver on the promise. They attempted to automate and scale one-to-one conversations using bots and failed. Regardless, the bot trend brought some wonderful things into our lives that will ultimately make your existence easier. Here are a few examples:
- With Taco Bell’s TacoBot [No Longer Available], you can complete an order from your Slack messenger.
- On Twitter you’ll find a TGI Fridays bot ready to take your order. During Super Bowl Sunday, the company even promised appetizers for a penny to those who sent the bot a football emoji.
- Speaking of emojis on Twitter: long before the start of the bot craze, Domino’s took orders from customers who tweeted a pepperoni pizza slice emoji. Now that Dom the pizza bot took over, you can order your pepperoni pizzas from Facebook Messenger.
To Be Continued
Bots still have a great potential to improve (and simplify) your online experience. As technology develops rapidly, we can trust that future bots will be able to handle more complex tasks, making a lot of complicated processes fully automated. Who knows, maybe one day there will be a bot capable of sorting out your taxes and also giving you professional advice on how to handle your finances! Or maybe bots will occupy a specific niche and will only be used to solve simple quick tasks.
What do you think the future of bots will be? Do you use any bots in your everyday life? Which ones do you find useful and which ones are distracting or annoying? Please, let us know in the comments below!
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