Chatbots as browsers

Posted by in Messaging, Mobility

Chatbot

Image by Esopebot (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I belong to an interesting Slack group whose members are digital immigrants. Those immigrants who started their digitization at the end of the 90s or the first few years of the 21st Century.

The normal use of this group is to arrange periodic lunches but, today, after sharing the news that PayPal has partnered with Slack, we have had an interesting conversation about messaging applications.

And there have been two main opinions:

  • Those who think that there is a clear tendency that all apps will end up having their own messaging system.
  • Those who have maintained that there is a clear tendency for messaging apps to end up being “new browsers” to the detriment of the other apps.

I raise my hand: I have defended the second option.

I see a very clear trend for messaging applications, mainly Facebook Messenger and Telegram (I do not talk about WeChat because at present it has practically no use in our close environment), but also to a lesser extent Line or kik and, sooner or later , To WhatsApp, will be to the mobile what the navigators went to the desktop computers.

Twenty years ago we had programs (not called apps yet) installed on our desktop computers. Gradually those programs have been replaced by browsers. We now have apps installed on our phones, and I am convinced that they will be gradually replaced by messaging applications through chatbots.

I am convinced of that because it is increasingly difficult for us to make the decision of downloading an app on our mobile phone and, when we decide so, in many cases it is at the cost of having to remove another one, and taking advantage of the tools that users already use to communicate every day is a huge opportunity that has very few barriers for the customer.

In fact the ease with which we use Twitter (for example) to communicate with companies I believe is a clear signal that we want to choose the channels we use, not go to the channels that others choose.

The effort to convince the users to download our app seems to me overwhelming compared to what it means to let them know that they can interact with us through some of the apps that they already use.

Sixteen years ago, I had the responsibility of launching automated telephone answering systems through Voice Recognition Units (VRU) and text-to-speech (TTS). What was surprising about these technologies was understanding someone when she spoke and “making” a machine to pronounce words. It was surprising but also frustrating for the users, who started a call seeking to talk to a person and was forced to do it with a machine that channeled  them through a menu that most od the times was not well designed. Then came the natural language, but that same user considered it unnatural to talk with a machine as with a person.

This is not necessary with messaging apps anymore, because the interaction is written, not spoken, and the user does not know who is behind, so using that same natural language system we can focus on what is really complicated and what really adds value: transactions. Transactions we have available  today thanks to web services, and can be consumed by chatbot exactly the same as consumed by a web page.

I see it crystal clear. Let’s see in a couple of years when we read this text again if I am right or not.