Checking In On Chat Bots

Four months ago, I blogged about our portfolio company Kik’s chat bot platform.

A week later, Facebook launched its chat bot platform for its Messenger product.

If you believed the hype around chat bots, you would have expected every mobile developer to quit developing for iOS and Android and start developing for these new new chat bot platforms.

But that has not happened.

I would be hard pressed to name a super popular chat bot on Messenger, Kik, Slack, and Telegram.

It is not for a lack of trying. There are over 300 chat bots listed on botlist right now. Many from well known companies. And over 20,000 chat bots have been built on the Kik platform since it was launched.

So what is going on?

Kik CEO Ted Livingston addressed some of that yesterday with a post describing what has not worked and what has.

His big takeaways are that AI driven chat bots have underwhelmed and that conversational UIs are not what users are looking for.

He suggests that developers should look at bots as a low friction way to get new users to try out and use their service instantly:

When you look closely at WeChat, the chat app that has completely taken over China, you see that its success as an ecosystem of services comes down to the same things: low-friction access to apps; sharing-related discovery (as well as QR codes); a common interface; and messaging as the front door to a world of digital experiences. In fact, there’s no major conversation-based service in WeChat. Instead, there’s just a whole lot of instant interactions.

I think chat bots will find their place in the mobile user’s daily habits. I have encouraged several entrepreneurs who have pitched me on new projects to consider starting with chat bots instead of mobile apps. And we have seen at least one of our portfolio companies move from a native mobile app to a chat bot as their primary go to market strategy.

New user behaviors take time to develop and sometimes require a breakthrough app to get things started. That’s where we are with chat bots. The hype phase is over and we are now into the figuring it out phase. That’s usually when interesting stuff starts to happen.