It was supposed to be exciting and change everything, but the chatbot revolution never really found the traction it needed. Despite loud proclamations from Facebook that it’ll make chatbots a viable business opportunity at the consumer level, users don’t seem to buy it and the revolution hasn’t arrived.
However, the future for chatbots isn’t dead and the opportunity to build a chatbot platform has never been clearer.
Best known for its eponymous chatbot, Howdy is focused on deploying chatbot technology for better business outcomes. The Howdy bot lives on Slack and can be trained by its users to coordinate meetings and perform virtually any form of data collection within a Slack team and deliver reports accordingly.
Howdy notably received funding from Bloomberg Beta and Slack itself.
Botmetrics, backed by Social Capital and Graph Ventures, provides analytics software for measuring bot interactions that can be used for improving users’ experiences.
Both companies have a strong predilection for open source and community-building, which speaks toward the high potential for a successful platform business. In fact, Howdy is planning to launch what it calls “Botkit Studio,” a toolbox for developers to make functional chatbots and move them to deployment.
According to Howdy CEO Ben Brown, “Botkit is the most popular tool for building bots right now, but what we’ve heard is the [customers] need the full functionality to operate. We had a big chunk of those services, but Botmetrics basically had the other half of what our customers need.”
The acquisition looks like a step in the right direction for facilitating the long-awaited chatbot revolution.
If Howdy is successful in building out a robust community of developers who then go on to build successful chatbots, that would be a huge boon for the company and position it at the front lines of a new age for the fledgling technology.
As referenced above, everyone was promised a revolution powered by the burgeoning chatbot technology. Alas, most of the promise has failed to be delivered so far, forcing many to cool their expectations.
So, the big question here is why? Why did chatbots not take off and deliver a more efficient economy?
Quite simply, there wasn’t a strong community giving informed feedback on what was viable and feasible for such a new technology and product-market fit was largely amiss. Most startups were consumer-focused and didn’t consider how colloquial their end users would be, rendering their products mostly useless.
The public simply wasn’t ready to handle such a big shift, nor were they educated on the limitations of such nascent technology.
Headwinds notwithstanding, Facebook is determined to make chatbots work, primarily through its flagship assistant M.
Baked into Facebook Messenger, M makes suggestions for activities based on the conversation taking place. If users are discussing eating at a Chinese restaurant in Soho, M would theoretically pull up recommend some restaurants and offer to show their Facebook pages for locations and reviews. M has historically struggled to find footing, but the new iteration has some promise, especially in connecting people to products and services, from which Facebook could theoretically take a cut.
As well, Facebook built a bot marketplace within Messenger, allowing groups of users to watch sports clips together, book travel arrangements and reservations, share music and videos, and more. Individual users can also interact with the bots directly, such as with Western Union to transfer money or consume news pieces from CNN.
It’s not to say that chatbots can never be consumer-facing, but the market needs a multiphasic approach – and Howdy, among others, seem to have found the right steps to take to usher in the chatbot revolution more carefully.
As with any new market, there are bound to be some fits and starts before real traction is found, which looks like is finally becoming the case.
Howdy recognized that pursuing a consumer-facing chatbot would be largely fruitless; instead it’s going after enterprise with a fresh product that offers businesses an easy way to coordinate their teams and activities and wrangle the relevant data for doing so.
DoNotPay is also finding a good niche for launching chatbots, helping its users tackle a rather heinous hassle of the modern age: fighting parking tickets. The service navigates the complexities for its users and has thus far saved 375,000 people a collective $9.3 million in fees.
Next, DoNotPay intends to offer a full suite of legal services across the US and UK with the launch of 1,000 bots this week, all enabled with natural language processing so users have an easy time getting the help they need.
To boost chatbots even further, Howdy’s Botkit enables developers to build new bots and its Botkit Studio helps move those bots to production, which is exactly what this gestating economy needs: a communitarian approach to learning and developing the best possible the best possible chatbots.
Another problem for chatbots is discovery, hence the need for those marketplaces. A good tool for finding bots across messaging platforms is BotList, holistic site
A technology this disruptive and this fresh to the masses needs careful stewardship for it to be successful. In the past, the tech world was probably a bit too enthusiastic over chatbots, deploying them at a scale the market wasn’t ready to handle yet.Instead, chatbots need considered development and deployment, much like Howdy and DoNotPay are demonstrating. Guidance from a platform, from an ecosystem of easy-to-use tools and other developers.
Enterprises looking to cash in on the chatbot revolution would be served well to take note. Platforms are the best method and chatbots are no exception.
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