The year was 2001 and the place was in front of my Dell PC. More accurately, it was right before my parents opted for DSL (yeah, I’m dating myself) and AIM was still the premier instant messenger of the day.
After I’d run the gamut of my “Friends” contact list, I’d occasionally strike up a convo with Smarter Child, the chatbot native to AIM. Its capabilities were limited, but hurling obscenities and awaiting its responses was pure entertainment to 16-year-old me. As my taste in recreation turned to (only slightly) more mature forms of leisure and I outgrew AIM and dial-up, so would today’s chatbots. Still able to counter you with a snappy response, though, they’re set to be the next big wave in social media, apps, and messenger communication…
Bots, Coming In Hot
Fast-forward to the time of writing, and it’s the week of the F8 conference, when Zuck has the world by its ears. Having been experimenting with brands on using Messenger for more than messaging, Facebook just updated the app to scan QR-style codes that instantly start messaging threads with people or businesses. Along with the built-in ability to pay, create media, and send GIFs, you can now hitch a ride using Uber, check the status of your recent purchase, order takeout, and even get your boarding pass, thanks to their A.I.-powered bot technology.
They’re not the only chatbots around, either. Messenger services KIK and Slack have recently dipped toes into the “chatbots-for-more-than-just-chatting” pool; the former of these two opening up a bot store through which Sephora offers in-app tutorials.
While the US is currently lagging behind in messenger-bot services (compared to Line and WeChat in Asia), tech companies are finally gearing up to open up developer kits and invest heavily in the tech. If rumors hold true, Zuckerberg is preparing to open up the floodgates for a bot store. There’s palpable hype in this arena, and many are saying it’s the biggest thing since Apple opened up the iPhone’s SDK to the world…
And A Bot Shall Lead Them
If ever there was a bandwagon to hop onto, this is it. Why? Consider the multitude of apps on your phone. Count how many you’ve downloaded, compared to the number you’ll actually ever use. No doubt, some are taking up real estate on your home screen and haven’t been opened since the date of download. And no doubt that one of the apps you did open recently was a messenger app of some sort (if we’re to believe the stats).
Facebook’s decision to gradually invest more into the building of Messenger bots indicates a trend for the app industry as a whole– after all, the amount of sharing in their own (non-Messenger) app has declined. This, combined with the growth of messenger apps and the reluctance to pull users away from where they spend hours on, means that messenger threads are becoming the new place to host a party. Communication with brands is moving from overcrowded app stores and disconnected, unread email threads, to these up-close-and-personal venues.
No longer will you have to fill out forms of personal info or pull out methods of payment, either (you should already be familiar with Facebook payments). Once logged into your messenger, the fulfillment of those tasks are foregone conclusions. And those wingtips you left in your cart two nights ago? Imagine how much more powerful remarketing is, inside of a messenger app– where you’ve already willingly began a two-way convo with your favorite designer. You’ll be reminded to take advantage of that pair on sale and purchase them in the same time it took to read the average text.
While there’s no immediate need to start building a Messenger bot yet, there’s a good chance you’ll be looking into it in the near future. From the messaging platform of your choice, you’ll be able to lead (and track) users to so-desired landing pages to give downloadables away, run activation campaigns, or even build out category or product pages. The possibilities extend beyond the realm of online, too; with scannable codes like the ones Facebook just released, users will be able to point, shoot, and go directly to a predetermined message thread, with a bot waiting on their every beck and call. Ordering and paying for unlimited brunch via your favorite spot’s messaging bot? Why not?
With all of these possibilities on the horizon, the only question left is, what will people gravitate towards more: AI-backed messenger bots or the AI-backed voice-assistants like Siri? The battle of bots is real, and it’s coming soon. My only wish is that Smarter Child was here to witness it…