Chatbots. What are they? As explained by Facebook earlier this month at F8 developer conference, “bots can provide anything from automated subscription content like weather and traffic updates, to customized communications like receipts, shipping notifications, and live automated messages all by interacting directly with the people who want to get them.” (If you want goosebumps, check out Facebook’s Messenger promo here.)
Why is everyone talking about them? We all know Facebook has quite some influence in this playing field, but some even say that chatbots after F8, are now hotter than virtual reality was earlier this year after the GDC conference. But is the technology ready to handle all this popularity? I decided to test out some of the up-and-running chatbots to find out if they are a viable social media support service.
I tested nine bot apps that are listed on Botlist.co, a new but well-known marketplace for bots that is constantly updating as new bots become available. In the end, I categorized the bots into three categories; those that worked great and were fully functional, those that had some flaws but were still functional regardless, and those that were not working at all for me. Here were my findings:
HealthTap – I was really impressed by this one. You have to register, but it’s very simple – just basic personal questions like gender, age, name. In this test I asked a simple question about my cold. HealthTap gave me a few answers to choose from that may have matched my question, and after gave me the option to ask another question. It also offers to bring a real doctor into the conversation if necessary.
Wall Street Journal – This bot was well-constructed, unsurprisingly. You simply prompt the chatbot and they offer a selection of news articles that you can open in a new browser. The app is good at explaining its functionalities in the beginning, too. It offered me a few examples of prompts to give, and examples of what you get in response. In reality, it’s just like the search function of the WSJ website, just in Messenger.
TechCrunch – My personal favorite chatbot, TechCrunch has really got it down. Similar to WSJ, TC gives you a selection of the top headline articles for the day. The catch is that you can set it up to be automatic – now, every day when I’m available on Messenger, TechCrunch sends me the day’s top articles, and I can choose to either read them in Messenger or open the article in a browser. Simple setup, yet completely functional and addictive.
Poncho – What could be a fun bot is actually still very novice – the most the app can do is provide you weather at a single moment for a city, but will not know how to react to anything else – literally!
Zork – Second to TechCrunch, Zork is high up on my favorites list, even if it’s not 100% developed. The original Zork was one of the more popular text adventure games released in 1980 for the Apple II system (and can still be played here). Once a conversation is started in messenger, you are in a word puzzle with the bot to “solve” a mystery. I’m still not quite sure what the mystery is, since he just gives you the first clue and you go from there. Certain words and phrases trigger the next clue, but sometimes it doesn’t recognize a word so you have to keep trying. I haven’t solved the mystery yet, but Zork has definitely got me hooked!
LISTED, BUT NOT FUNCTIONAL OR NOT ENOUGH INFORMATION TO COMMENT:
Hudson – Supposedly a bot for news and weather, Hudson is one of the top bots available, but unfortunately wasn’t accepting new users when I chatted. In my first try it directed me to a waitlist (and gave me a sassy website response), but the second time he flat out rejected me.
CNN – This bot’s setup was almost exactly like WSJ; the only difference was that it didn’t work. The bot prompted me to use specific commands but didn’t react, but rather it appeared the bot was typing endlessly.
KLM – Heavily advertised in the Messenger promo linked above, the KLM bot was only available if you’re able to sign up upon checkout of reserving a flight. I had a flight from a couple weeks ago, but unfortunately I had to wait for a human to reply.
Invisible Girlfriend – This chatbot acts as your online Facebook girlfriend or boyfriend. I’m pretty sure this bot could become a legal issue at some point because it is so creepy, but it also carries a hefty $15 price tag per month. I wasn’t very willing to dish out the money just to test it, since I imagine it’s something like a phone-in dating service if you catch my drift.
I personally believe that Facebook chatbots are just an old trend making a comeback. The original chatbot – pretentious and witty SmarterChild of AOL Instant Messenger, circa 2000 – will be hard to beat, in my eyes.
So are chatbots worth talking about? Yes. They might not be ready now, but they’re on their way to being the next big thing. The technology is constantly evolving as more developers get their hands dirty with bots; there are over 20 apps just for building these bots, and the numbers are growing. How will chatbots affect your brand? When can you start using them for social media support? Contact us if you’d like to find out!