Virtual Agents, ChatBots, Invisible Apps and Conversation Commerce

Since drafting this blog post in Evernote a few months ago, the ChatBot hype has escalated. You will read about Virtual Agents, ChatBots, Invisible Apps, Conversation Commerce, Conversational UIs, Ambient Computing, Bot Stores, Tay and more. Checkout “The Complete Beginner’s Guide to ChatBots” on Medium for tons of examples.

Messaging apps like Kik, WeChat, WhatsApp, Facebook M, Slack and Telegram are integrating ChatBots into their experiences and building Developer tools. Experiences for Shopping, Booking Travel, Dating, Marketplaces and Healthcare are being built by Developers, Startups and Enterprises.

Over the past year since first learning about “Invisible Apps” and ChatBots I’ve been following the thinking of Chris Messina. Chris is a thought-leader on this subject. I highly recommend checking out these three writings/podcasts/lists from him:

After you checkout Chris’s work and get a sense of what’s happening, read on…

Designing for AI, Bots and Invisible Apps

One of the aspects of this I find fascinating is the psychology behind bot interactions. My wife, 7 yr old and 5 yr old and me all say “Thanks Alexa” after “she” does something like sets a timer or plays a song. I think most of us have had interactions in which we’re not sure if we’re talking with a bot or a human.

These articles and podcasts discuss the design, psychology and product management approaches to designing for this new paradigm.

Dev Platforms for Bots

Twilio is totally awesome of course and has been around for a while. We also see startups like Chat Fuel, Layer and Button supporting the new bot type development and technologies like IFFT being leveraged.

Microsoft is also pushing hard in this area by providing a Developer Framework called BotBuilder. And Facebook’s Messenger Platform of course.

Why is this important?

On average, people spend the majority of their time in about 5 apps and interact with about 25 each month. Most experts are predicting a trend in which other interactions beyond apps gradually change the app paradigm that has dominated the past 5+ years. Interacting with notifications, SMS, messenger clients, Siri, Google Now, Cortana, Alexa are all examples of this. Of the experts that predict the “death of apps”, there’s the same amount that predict “ChatBots are hype and apps as we know them are here to stay”.

The “Second Smartphone Revolution” predicts people will bank, shop and interact with their doctor as core mobile experiences. With the mobile phone as the primary device for these important day-to-day interactions, you can imagine how conversational commerce and ChatBot type experiences could play a big role.

Even More Reading

Here’s a few more podcasts and articles I recommend on this topic.

For Me Personally

Some of my favorite user experiences now are coming from apps that interact mostly via SMS including Digit and TripIt.

I feel myself gradually getting very comfortable with alternative UIs like ChatBots and Alexa. I trust the information I’m submitting is being handled correctly, I enjoy interacting outside of a website, email or mobile app and I find myself experimenting with different types of things. A few times a day I have an interaction where I can see how it could and will be improved by a “Invisible App” type experience.

Who knows if ChatBots will be the next best thing since sliced bread, but it’s certainly a cool paradigm that I see as having an important role in our daily lives.

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