A little more than six months ago, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella proclaimed that “bots are the new apps.” Like many tech-proclamations, it turned out to be breathless, partly true and strategically devoid of pesky details.
And for most of the media business so far, bots — like live video, distributed content teams, virtual reality, augmented reality, AI and a dozen other doodads — might be the future, but they’re not the present.
While news publishers have hastily assembled bots to pump their content onto platforms like Facebook Messenger, Line and Kik, the results have been underwhelming.
“One of the hardest parts of user-experience design is distinguishing between what people want and what they need,” said Jeff Veen, design partner at True Ventures, a Silicon Valley venture firm.
Too many chatbots are just glorified interactive voice response systems that we all hate when calling a big company. ‘To check your balance, just say “balance” or press 1. To make a transfer….’ In nearly all of those situations, a simple menu-based interface showing things you can tap on would be better.”
Over the course of this year, a dizzying number of bots have sprung up across the messaging space. There are more than 50,000 bots on Facebook Messenger, and more than 3 million LINE@ accounts, which are used by businesses looking to build bots.
Only a small number of these belong to news publishers, and most have a common thread running through them: They are there to serve the day’s news to users, either pieces that are “trending” or simply stories curated for the particular platform. In effect, we were promised Skynet, but we’ve gotten a souped-up RSS reader instead.