Not that long ago, ChatBots have become a thing of interest in many spheres. Facebook, Google, and many companies have built several platforms with Bot functionalities to interact with their existing services. I have been aware of bots for a while and even had a go at Google Allo. In the present messaging ecosystem, we have a lot of messaging platforms like Whatsapp, Telegram, Slack, Hipchat, WeChat and others competing for the user base. Whatsapp for example boasts of having 1 Billion daily active users. It is also claimed that the user base of messaging platforms has far outnumbered the user base on social networks. So why do I find messaging platforms interesting?
I recently attended the Larcon EU 2017 conference in Amsterdam and the opening talk was given by Marcel Pociot on the topic From zero to multi-platform Chatbot with BotMan. The talk focused on how to build a ChatBot service in PHP. This talk exposed me to what is possible with ChatBots and not long, I began to imagine the things I could build with them.
While I was still relishing the idea of what I could build a ChatBot for, I recently decided to look into Telegram as an alternative messaging platform to WhatsApp. I found out that Telegram has an Open API with good support for building ChatBots right into their platform. So I thought of linking Marcels’ Botman project with Telegram’s API and the possibility seemed endless. In the course of the evening, I realized an even more beneficial use case for a ChatBot.
Outside living the life of a Software Developer, I do take part in non-technical activities like dancing Salsa and I play Basketball. I do play basketball in different parts of London and each group has its own modality for organising a game. One of my basketball groups has a Mobile App built by one of the players. Before the mobile app was built, we organised each game using a mailing list. For some reason, not every member of the group has subscribed to using the mobile app. I also tried to introduce my second basketball group to the mobile app and still faced the same hesitation. The same applied to my Salsa group.
I notice for some reason, each group was a lot more active when it came to organising activities using Whatsapp and Emails. The salsa group, for example, is made up of both young and elderly folks. And no one seemed interested in installing a separate mobile app just to help with organizing a meetup despite the numerous benefits a dedicated application would bring. The challenge with the current system is the fact that not everyone indicates their intention to turn up for an event. This makes it difficult to know the numbers that will or will not show up. Each week, we get a broadcast from the group administrator asking for us to indicate our interests, so the numbers can be estimated and the necessary preparations made. This doesn’t always happen as expected and sometimes we have more or far fewer people. Very unpredictable system as you can see.
How will a Bot help? Taking a queue from how Bots are used in Slack and Telegram, if Whatsapp in the future decides to build a Bot integration system, we could easily get people responding via chat on their availability for each event and have the Bot keep a count on the expected numbers who will show up. This could be a simple thing as having the admin use specially formatted text to ask for availability from the group members. Bots can also be made to show options like Buttons, Checkboxes and with good coding can be made to sell tickets. Bots have already been designed to order pizza and so selling tickets is possible right now.
Integrating Bots into the messaging platforms will mean one less application to install and people are pretty much familiar with using their favorite messaging apps. The learning curve will be pretty short and within their convenience. It is for this reason, I am thinking Bots + Messaging platforms, will be the new frontier. We will have fewer small businesses building specialized mobile applications when they could simply integrate a ChatBot into a messaging platform.