If you’re one of the few people who have managed to avoid the onslaught of Chat Bot related articles over the past year, then let me start by way of an introduction; a chatbot is, in it’s most basic form, a computer program that can mimic basic human conversations.
This isn’t particularly new or exciting; this sort of chat bot has been around since the 70s. What is new and exciting is the recent development in systems and frameworks which make creating your own chat bot easy enough that you can focus on the quality of the interaction with the end user instead of wallowing in the technical considerations.
There is a website with a form to fill in that will give you a chat bot at the end of it, all the way through to an enterprise company’s framework for building your bespoke conversational interface from scratch.
The term “Conversational Interface” has become significantly more popular recently as well; all those Web Designers, UI Developers, UX Developers who are taking this opportunity to reinvent classic, almost stale, concepts from e-commerce into the limited flow of an instant message are paving the way for the next iteration of how we interact with a company or brand.
We’re already more than happy to throw a tweet at a company who may have wronged us, instead of calling their helpline or emailing their customer support; and we expect, and usually receive, a personalised and rapid response. Our expectations are high, and the next generation of chatbots and conversational interfaces can help to deliver on this.
Whilst there are a brave few who have ventured forth with a chat bot – Uber, Dominos, SkyScanner, Shopify (although they’re quick to tell you it’s not a chatbot, but a conversational interface to a product catalogue, and a fine one it is at that) – the rest of us have a downpour of resources, information, documentation, APIs, EULAs, T&Cs, and no idea where to start.
This is one of the reasons I decided to start the London (LDN) BotFramework Meetup group. BotFramework is Microsoft’s emerging platform for developers to create their bespoke chatbots, and it’s this technology – along with a general conversation on chatbot futurism and various UX/R&D considerations – that will be focused on at the meetups.
We already have a good relationship with Microsoft’s BotFramework product team, and even have a Senior Technical Evangelist from Microsoft UK as the opening speaker for the inaugural session on Wednesday 26th October.
I’ve reached out to companies who have blazed that conversational interface trail and have a few already lined up to take us through in-depth case studies of both their tech and design considerations, challenges, and results.
It is my hope that the meetup group will help to mould the burgeoning future of the chatbot, via the conversations during and after the meetups, into something both tangible and wonderful.
Anyone interested in meeting other bot enthusiasts, developers, designers, or conversational interface nerds, can join the group over at the LDNBotFramework meetup.com page.