• Sridhar Rajendran

Rise of the chatbots

Updated: Aug 23, 2018

I am convinced - chatbots are no longer dumb

Chatbots have been the buzzword in the last year or two. Ever since the rise of WeChat and the myriad ways in which brands and people interact with each other, there has been a lot of chatter over this phenomenon (no pun intended).

My experience with chatbots…meh

In India WeChat is not a popular platform. Whatsapp reigns supreme. I used WeChat for a brief amount of time to figure out what all the hula hooping was about. Having no friends to interact with, I was in the company of bots. They gave my horoscope, weather update and more banal information. After a few days I uninstalled the app as it did not provide any value to me.

In 2017, Facebook made a lot of splash by introducing bots in Messenger platform. I decided to give it a try. I interacted with a couple of bots — Dominos, MeditateBot(owned by Calm app), Hipmunk, etc. My experience was nothing to rave about. To me, chatbots seemed like a glorified IVR on text. Once I got tired of the canned responses I blocked them all.

The promise of chatbots is that they can be a one stop shop for getting a bunch of stuff done without having to install a new app for every task. In theory it makes sense but the underlying tech stack and the lack lustre user experience turn out to be the weakest links.

Above all it is the inflated expectation setting. Chatbots are promoted as the sassy assistants in sitcoms but in real life they turned out to me more of an overworked waiter at a deli.

Image credit: GIPHY
What’s new?

My perception about this industry changed when I attended a workshop on chatbots conducted by Apurva Mudgal from Haptik. Haptik is a platform where users can do a couple of stuff like set reminders, pay bills, shop, etc. More like the WeChat in its infancy stage in India. While the tasks in itself did not warrant installing another app, it was the usage numbers. When people uninstall apps because of repeated notifications, having a high daily active users meant people were interested in this platform both the company and the chat paradigm.

My interest in chatbots has been piqued. Few minutes of Googling led me to understand there is a lot of development happening. Many platforms are cropping up that promise simpler ways to create and deploy a bot in less than 20 minutes. Feels like the early 2000s where every company wanted to get a website. Now every website needs a bot.

Over the next few days I will be getting my hands dirty with a couple of platforms and write about my experiences. Until then,