The chat bot is back in a big way, thanks to the rise of mobile texting and messaging apps. Its full name is actually “chatterbot,” and its has a long history, dating as far back as the 1960s, when the computing world first tried to build machines that could mimic humans.
Their heyday, to the extent that it had one, peaked at the dawn of the Internet and with AOL chatrooms. Chatbots surfaced in programs, like Microsoft Word, which had Clippy, the virtual assistant. But they never proved more useful than annoying and mostly faded, until today. Messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, Kik, Snapchat, WeChat, Viber, Skype and Line will collectively reach 2 billion users in the next two years. And chatbots are seen as one way for big brands and publishers to reach these users, one on one.
First of all, what do these bots do?
“There are many kinds of chatbots, just like there are many types of apps, and just like there are app stores for mobile, there are bot stores for messaging,” said Eyal Pfeifel, the CTO of Imperson, a bot marketing company.
So where are they?
This week, Kik, a messaging app with 275 million registered users, launched a bot store for brands and publishers to build their own bots that deliver services to users. Facebook is set to launch a bot store at F8, its developer conference next week. Bot stores are being viewed as the next app store.
What types of bots are we talking about?
They generally fall into these categories: entertainment, commerce-focused, news, utility, customer service, Pfeifel said. Kik’s new store launched with three categories of bots: entertainment, playful and useful. Vine, Riffsy and Funny or Die are among the entertainment brands. The Weather Channel bot is in the “useful” camp because it delivers weather essentials. Facebook Messenger is starting to host bots from brands like airline KLM, which has a bot that can help make travel plans. Sales bots can facilitate shopping transactions, and customer service bots can handle consumer queries.
Where do these bots actually exist?
Inside messaging apps, and even inside plain text messaging, people can subscribe and follow bots. They can respond to texts and perform some action for the user when commanded.