Using technology to automate the boring parts of daily life is awesome. Generally speaking, we’re pretty lucky to live during a time when so many people are developing mobile apps and chatbots to help us make life simpler and more fun.
About this time last year, I attended a conference in San Francisco that was all about companies doing cool things with chatbots and artificial intelligence. I learned a lot and got exposure to some really unique reasons why I might want to use a chatbot to automate some part of my life.
Until that conference, I really hadn’t used Facebook Messenger a ton. But, that changed when I realized that companies that were trying new things with chatbots were mostly doing it using Facebook Messenger. So, after the conference, I did what every self-respecting, self-proclaimed technophile would do—I aimlessly downloaded every chatbot that I thought might make my life mildly easier or more entertaining and started chatting.
A year later, I no longer communicate with a single chatbot over Facebook Messenger. But why?
The Personalization is Lacking
When it comes to content online, there’s a fine line between personalizing content recommendations for readers and giving them surprising recommendations they may not have thought to look for on their own. One of the earliest Messenger bots I chose to use was the chatbot offered by Greatist. The chatbot markets itself as a service to “send you a healthish idea for you to try every day.”
And so it did. Every day on my way to work, I got a new idea and was asked if I thought I’d try it or not. And, almost every day, I told it I probably wouldn’t. The problem with personalization is that content companies still need to start somewhere. Even the most sophisticated personalization algorithms won’t deliver content that’s relevant to someone outside the target audience because the content simply doesn’t exist for that type of person.
The Content is Already Available Somewhere Else
During my day job, I work with a few media clients on their news apps. I also came from a journalism background, so delivering the news to people is a passion of mine. The Wall Street Journal was one of the many panelists from the conference I attended, so I immediately downloaded and started using their Facebook Messenger chatbot, as well as Al Jazeera English, The Weather Channel, and AccuWeather.
But, here’s the thing—I’ve already been using these companies’ apps on my phone for a long time. I get notifications when news happens in real time and I can add widgets for each app to my phone’s lock screen, which show me the day’s top stories. The Messenger bot for the Wall Street Journal, for instance, really just shows a couple of featured stories inside of the chat and gives you the chance to dig deeper into the story by opening it online. As a user who is already part of their target market, the chatbot basically offers a worse user experience for getting the news than I’ve become used to after using their other products.
The Performance Has Been Somewhat Poor
Sometimes even pre-populated commands don’t result in a response. Since it’s been a long time between my last use of Epytom Stylist and starting this post, I hopped back in just to see what’s changed. The bot immediately reminded me that I haven’t filled out my “closet” (meaning the bot may not be great at personalizing recommendations because it doesn’t know what kinds of clothing I have). So, I let the bot ask me if I have slim jeans (yes), a leather jacket (not for me), and a dress shirt (hmm, that seems basic). After completing the setup, I expected it to serve me a few new looks.
Instead, I got radio silence. When I manually re-asked the bot to give me a few new style ideas, it asked me how many times a day I wanted it to interrupt me with other ideas (sort of the chatbot’s way of asking your permission to send you notifications). I proceeded to spend a few more minutes setting up my profile (I already did this once, by the way), and ultimately didn’t really get any style ideas I liked.
Chatbots are Adding to the Noise
When it comes to my smartphone, the most useful interface is my lock screen. Push notifications are one of the most critical components to keep me up-to-date on what’s happening in my life. Just last night, I missed a text from my wife while I was in the grocery store because I left my phone in the car, and the OS didn’t send the notification to my watch after the two unpaired (yes, I have cellular on my watch). When you sign up to chat with a Messenger bot, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll want to enable push notifications for that bot, otherwise, how will you remember to check it?
What I discovered during my experiments was that when compared with the other notifications I was already getting, anything from a Messenger bot sort of started feeling less relevant the longer I remained subscribed. One day of ignoring the prompts turned into two, which turned into three, which turned into a trend.
I Still Love Chat, Though
Ok, so I’ve abandoned a ton of chatbots during the past year. At the same time, I used API.ai’s online tutorial to create a ground-up chatbot that can recognized intent and tell me the weather in response to a question. Actually, I love chatbots and the future of messaging, and that’s why, after writing this post, I’m giving these bots another shot. In fact, using Facebook Messenger’s “Discover” feature has already revealed several promising options, including Wordsworth (a bot that will teach you a new word every day), Shine Text (“daily tips for self-fulfillment every morning”), and Trivia Blast (we’ll see about that). All three of these represent things I wouldn’t otherwise do in a normal day, and because of that, I think I stand a better chance of not ignoring them when they want to talk.
If you have chatbots that you use on a regular basis, I’d love to know what you’re using and why. Leave me a comment below.