Over the past months I have dove head-first into the world of Bots, chatbots specifically. Through my studying, research, prototyping and deployment of chatbots, I have learned a few things about myself, my interaction with technology and my expectations when dealing with the worldwide web. Although in the past I felt a certain sense of satisfaction with technology, I cannot say that I was entirely happy with many of the solutions presented, I settled. I settled with the arcane information structures; I settled with the glam and glitz of the design. I settled on the information which was presented to me, even though at times it did not fully answer my questions. However, it was not until I started working with chatbots that I became aware of the disappointment I felt. I have a certain amount of confidence that I am not alone in this feeling. Which has led me to the conclusion that Bots are not only changing the technical landscape they are also disrupting the way people think and interact with technology and in turn the world.
Over my career, I have been a part of some very complex projects; some of which seemed like a house of cards; with different factors (people, resources, supplies, technology, processes, executives, and other factors) hinging and depending on each other. I have seen multi-million dollar projects get scrapped due to a change in leadership, a shift in technology, or the loss of one key person. I have also seen complex solutions which were elegant on the back end be horror stories on the front end. I have seen a lot of great ideas amount to nothing or become just a shadow of their originally intended vision; all of which have amounted to loss revenues, morale, customer satisfaction and a host of other failures. However, Bots, on the other hand, are beautifully simple.
Bots have a purpose “to deliver a service.” That is it! They have a stated purpose, and they are built towards that purpose. When you build a Bot, you only need three things: A purpose, a technology to build and host the Bot and a platform or channel to connect the Bot to the world. That is all they need.
The purpose is stated through a story line. There could be multiple storylines but each storyline no matter, if there is one or 50, has a start, a middle and an end. A storyline guides the user through a process which enables them to get to the end. Moreover, like a good novel, it does not take the user through any detours in the story unless they are vital to the telling of the story. If someone is using a Bot to book a hotel room, the Bot may ask for the dates a room is needed for, what location (city, state, address) room is needed in and how much money is available for the room. Once that information is collected the Bot finds rooms which most closely match within the parameters and presents them. Bots do not provide the fluff of design or the noise of added marketing information. They are simple in their construction and their usability and provide answers to questions.
By not having design components to contend with or too many options to choose from, users of Bots can get right to the answers they are looking for at a much faster speed. Opposed to websites which often throw a lot of design and information at consumers without answering the question asked. Also, Bots do not contend with the same information structures that websites typically account for. This is because many websites are built to be catch all locations; or sites which aim to please everyone (or at least the clear majority) who visits them but end up helping no one. When a website is created much thought is placed in the Information Architecture; Keywords, Metadata and a host of other considerations are weighed and architected into the back end. Connections are made or created, and then the design is overlaid on top; all in the hopes that when a user lands on the site, they will get to the information that is needed. Bots, on the other hand, rely on storylines only. They have a start (a greeting), they have a middle (ascertain what is needed), and an end (deliver what has been asked for). By working in within the tight framework of storylines Bot designers and Developers are forced to consider each of the different storylines (also known as scenarios) and chart them out, and then build the Bot to address these storylines. This enables the user to use the Bot to get exactly what they want almost immediately. If the Bot is presented with a storyline, it was not built for there is a fallback which can be used to route the user to either a more appropriate Bot or a human. In doing so, Bots provide better answers to users with questions much faster.
Although Bots were originally intended to advance technology, they also have advanced people as well. Bots on their most basic level are simply programs which are working to achieve the goal it was developed for. It only recognizes data. To spend time creating and designing a visual theme for a database table would be a wasteful folly as far as a Bot is concerned. Bots were intended to fill certain needs’ those of being able to perform repetitive tasks multiple times with the same accuracy. However, as we have advanced the technology, we are seeing them take on an even greater role on the internet, on our mobile phones, and even in our cars. The added convenience they bring to our world and lives is still unmeasured, but the potential is tremendous. This explains why practically every major IT company is actively pursuing their use on even larger scales. There is even talk that in the future the internet as we know it today will be long gone to be replaced with Bots instead. Moreover, if you think about it is that a bad thing? After all, when I go to a website, I am there for a specific story or purpose. Even though the site may have spent loads of money on their design and back-end architecture, it all becomes muted to me. After all, I want to get the information I am looking for. Moreover, if I cannot get it within the first few seconds, then I am out of the website as soon as I press the back button or close the browser; which is why Bots are making tremendous inroads with businesses and consumers. Perhaps, future branding efforts will be based on a company’s ability to tell great stories.
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