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Hello fellow ‘treps! It has been a while since I wrote one of my pieces for you, but there is a good reason. Firstly, it’s because I became a father- my daughter’s name is Laila Grace Hudson, and she is now five months old. Being a dad is an amazing experience- it is very similar to running a tech startup: you have no idea what you are getting into, you make up the rules as you go, and you still have sleepless nights, but hey, children are a little smellier and louder! The other reason is that we have been busy growing Brndstr HQ, and we have been building over 90 bots for brands, with that number climbing each week. With that being the case, I thought I would dust off my writing pad and give you a deeper look at what bots actually do and why soon -as with apps back in 2008- there will soon be a bot for everything!
In order to get an understanding on where bots fit into the tech landscape, let’s jump back a few years. In 1996, people started to talk about websites, and how your business would soon need one. This created an ecosystem, which allowed the birth of companies like Yahoo, Google and Netscape- they essentially helped you search the masses amounts of webpages that were popping up online each day. A website simply allowed your business to have an address (URL) that people could easily find and a digital space that housed everything you did in one place. As time evolved, these websites become more complex, and started to form communities, like TheFacebook.com in 2004.
10 years later, in 2006, smartphones were gaining popularity, and as with websites on the Internet, there was a lot of talk about how applications or apps could sit on a device. Soon after, Steve Jobs and Apple announced the iPhone and with that came the App Store. This essentially was a Google for Apps, and much like businesses were encouraged to create a website before, they would now create an app. Instead of publishing it on the Internet and giving it a URL or address, they would now submit it to Apple for approval, and once successful, it would appear in the App Store. You would give your app a name, and people could then use the App Store gateway to find, it, download and use it.
As with the lifecycle we saw with websites, apps started off being relatively simple and being more of a better viewing experience than a webpage that was designed for the smartphone. Soon, apps such as the London Tube Map, Weather or BBC News feeds began popping up. Over time, and as people started to explore what could be done with apps, communities and networks started to appear with apps such as WhatsApp, Instagram and Snapchat all becoming app-only companies, with just a supporting website for users to download and get information.
Now, we are in 2016, and a few weeks ago, Facebook announced the launch of a Messenger Platform with bots and its send/receive API- to put it simply, it’s essentially a Facebook Bot Store. Before looking deeper into this, let’s first discuss what a bot is. Simply put, a bot (or robot) is a piece of technology that is programmed to respond to requests. You trigger these bots by typing one of their keywords, and it responds with preset information. For example, when you type ‘time,’ it will send you the time, ‘weather’ gives you the latest weather, and so forth. As with apps and websites, the magic here also takes place behind the scenes, and you are presented with an instant reply with key information. Bots come in all shapes and sizes and are built into most phones, with Siri on the iPhone being one of the most recognized.
What is interesting about the Facebook Bot Store is that, as we saw with websites sitting on the Internet and apps sitting on a phone, the social networking giant has opted for bots to sit on social chat channels, like Facebook Messenger. This means that businesses can now, as they did with mobile apps, build a bot and submit it to Facebook for approval. Like Apple has the App store as the gateway to apps, Facebook has Messenger, and so a simple search in the Messenger app can help you easily find a bot. But this is where it gets more interesting.
With the Internet, you viewed websites in browsers, which meant that you could view many webpages at once, and you just needed to know each one’s URL. With apps, you installed them on your phone, and you could download as many apps as you wanted. Now for bots, its even easier- you access these bots by simply starting a chat with them directly in the aforementioned messaging applications. So the idea is that you could be speaking to your friends, and if, during the conversation, you need to know the train times, you would, instead of opening a new app, you would just start a new conversation with a train times bot, and it would robotically give you the information you need.
What is exciting about this space is that a number of chat applications such as Telegram, Kik and WeChat all have a similar bot store where you can chat with robots. Over the past few months, we have seen a number of companies try to build bots and integrate them into their business. As they did with websites and then apps, more companies will, slowly, over time, move over to work with bots. At Brndstr, we have been helping brands build bots on Twitter for the past two years, where we use a #tag or emoji as the trigger to start a conversation. These bots we have built can be made part of a marketing campaign, and were designed to easily let the user engage with the brand. For example, you could tweet @McDonalds with #NationalBreakfast to receive an instant reply with a digital voucher, or tweet #Ride at @Uber to receive a gift code for a free ride.
We are still in the early days of the bot space, but you can clearly see where the tech world is heading, and over time, I am excited to see what can be built and how clever bots can become. It will take time for people to get used to this way of communication, but the world is now a place where everyone wants instant gratification and chatting to an auto-reply bot certainly allows that. For us at Brndstr, where we build and host bots for brands, it is set to be a crazy year ahead, but I look forward to seeing what cool ideas and solutions you guys come up with. Happy building, everyone, and catch up with you all again soon.