Digital personal assistants on smartphones or PCs help make things easier for us, keeping us up to date on the things that matter most to us. The most notable ones—Apple’s Siri and Window’s Cortana, which have been described as a personalized concierge service, with “real people” instantly available at our behest—help us accomplish a myriad of tasks online, like researching and buying products and services.
The convenience of online messaging has made it the de facto form of communication for most people—especially at work, offering more immediacy than email or voice calls. New research shows that messaging services are now outpacing traditional social platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter.
Businesses are tapping into the popularity of messaging apps and using them as a way to reach out to their customers in the manner they most prefer. About a third of smartphone owners use messaging apps, according to a 2015 report by the Pew Research Center.
Some social media technology observers speculate that combining concierge-like features with messaging apps to create "chatbots" could potentially leapfrog apps as a dominant means of digital communication and commerce.
THE NEW CHANT SAVANT IN TOWN
An extension of these digital butlers is a new messaging hybrid—the “chatbot”. Users of Facebook’s Messenger app and Microsoft’s Skype will soon discover in the coming few months a new way of interacting across these familiar and reliable social platforms.
Chatbots are the new apps. Experts say messaging bots are capable of handling a much wider range of tasks than the apps offered by retailers and other consumer businesses. This is so because the bots have the capability of recognizing a variety of spoken or typed phrases, where as apps force users to choose from options on a dropdown menu.
Chatbots are programs that largely use artificial intelligence to simulate conversations with humans; the technology can be used with messaging apps. The goal is to change the way we communicate with businesses, and with each other, on the Internet.
This smart intelligence is what makes accessing chatbots easy and simple. On the other hand, a special purpose app needs to be downloaded first and often asks for a new account sign-up.
CHATTING WITH THE ROBOTS
Messaging chatbots are designed to be conversational, to create a more natural communication platform. They're simply software programmed to conduct conversations like humans and perform simple tasks humans have been performing until now. How it all works behind the scenes is that automated chatbots can progressively answer interactive questions with supervision from human operators—much like Siri or Cortana.
Facebook is widely expected to unveil a Messenger chatbot, having already partnered with a few online retailers and transportation companies. Using Facebook’s chatbot, we’ll be able to check our Zulily order status, schedule car services from Uber, or get a boarding pass on Royal Dutch Airlines.