Posts from bots

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.

Video Of The Week: Chat, Bots, and Kik

Ted Livingston, founder and CEO of our portfolio company Kik, did an interview last week at Disrupt in which he talked about the chat market, bots, and Kik’s role in all of that.

The Kik Bot Platform

Our portfolio company Kik launched its bot platform today. Kik has supported bots for several years but they were limited to bots from publishers and brands that were willing to make a significant effort to be on the Kik platform.

What is new today is that any developer can build a bot for the Kik platform. Details and tools are available to do that at dev.kik.com. And once you build your bot for Kik, it is available in the bot store in Kik.

kik bot shop

Kik has been innovating in the “chat as a platform” space for three or four years now. They have been a real pioneer in this area. You may recall Kik Cards which are html micro apps that run natively in Kik which has its own built in browser. Cards still exist but Kik found out that “chatting” is the more native user behavior in chat apps so conversing with a bot turns out to be more powerful than running a micro web app in a messaging app. That said, Kik still supports cards for bots that need to display content as part of its user experience.

Kik is also leveraging its “Kik codes” to make bots easily discoverable and shareable. Here is an example of a Kik code:

build your bot

So if you own a retail store, restaurant, etc you could put your Kik code sticker on your window and your customers and walk-by traffic could communicate with your bot and get offers, coupons, etc.

I am expecting developers to turn their attention to bots in the coming months as multiple chat platforms will be supporting them. Right now in the US, you have Kik, Slack, and Telegram supporting bots natively on their platforms. And most everyone expects Facebook to launch their own bot platform at the upcoming F8 event.

And there are quite a few bot development platforms emerging that will allow developers to “write once, run many” so you can build a bot for all of these platforms instead of having to choose one or the other.

So it may well be that we are going from websites>native mobile apps>bots as the dominant way users will interact with your business. At least many people are projecting that. I am proud that Kik’s team continues to lead and innovate in this sector.