There is already a lot of literature about the rise and fall of chatbots, and the rise of bots that don’t chat. For someone who has not followed this space closely, this statement may not make any sense. However, it pretty much summarizes the evolution of the chatbot frenzy of the last 15 months. We’re strong believers in this space and as such, we’ve been looking at ways to better articulate the value of chatbots.
Messaging platforms have already started, some long time ago, to focus on chatbots that don’t chat. In Messenger, for example, it is now possible to completely deactivate the chat interface. This will lead to the the creation of solutions that rely primarily if not exclusively on visual interfaces. As we see chatbots getting created without support for Natural Language Processing, we wonder whether the term chatbot is still adequate to describe what’s going on. We believe, as many others in this space, that the term bot is better than chatbot for the types of solutions that are now deployed in messaging systems.
It’s common for messaging apps to provide platform tools that aid in delivering both conversational UIs and traditional visual UIs. The visual UI of a bot is essentially a Web app. It has a URL and it can be loaded from a browser. From the user’s perspective, it looks pretty much like a mobile web app. Sure, it is loaded from a messaging system, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. In fact, the moment you focus on its web based UI and you look at the messaging system as a discovery, delivery and social channel you realize that this thing, the bot, can have a life of its own outside of a particular messaging channel and perhaps outside of any messaging channel. Its life is enriched by the capabilities provided by the messaging channel. But the bot’s life is not tied to a particular channel. It can exist on many channels in order to address the needs of the user and the needs of the user’s real-life social network that uses multiple messaging channels.
Once you look at bots this way, you realize that a bot is like a traditional Web or mobile app that happens to have multiple interfaces and identity providers, one interface and one identity provider for each messaging app. It is an app that can be discovered, advertised and shared using various mechanisms available in these channels. It is an app that can provide multiple interaction models, visual and conversational. We believe you can implement bots this way, and the magic is in designing modular implementations and following good design practices. Even though we’re at the beginning of understanding and defining these design practices, we believe this is critical to building successful, social bots.
If bots are apps that can run atop a messaging system, why not simply calling them apps? Well, that’s because they are not quite the same as the apps we’re used to in that they provide instant gratification. Therefore, we think that a very good, alternate name for them is instant apps.
Instant Apps are all about eliminating friction. Whether that friction is in the experience of discovery, bootstrapping, usage or sharing, instant apps strive to provide users the best, frictionless user experience. Let’s say that you are a user and you discover an instant app by using your preferred platform (e.g. Facebook Messenger, Kik, Alexa, etc.) on a device of your choice (e.g. iPhone, Android Phone, Alexa, Google Home, etc.). Perhaps you do a search on Google or you browse the available bots on your messaging app, or maybe you are walking down the street and you scan a QR code in a coffee shop window. It doesn’t matter how you get to the instant app as long as it is there where you’re expecting it to be, immediately available for use.
There is a very good chance you won’t have to download/install anything. For example, if you are already one of the 1.2B users using Messenger, there is no install for the instant app, if it has a presence in Messenger. IF You are not a user of a supported channel, make sure the developer of the instant app knows about it. After all, they should get the app as close to you as possible.
Once you start using it, it responds to you with a personalized message as if it knows you. Instant apps know just enough to make sure you don’t have to go through tedious account setup steps, allowing you to use them instantly. And reducing on-boarding friction is just the beginning.
If you scanned a QR code for the new seasonal latte, or clicked on a promotional link, it's already in your basket -- no need to search for it or browse all the locations of your favorite coffee shop only to find the one you’re standing in front of. Or perhaps you browse a new Web site and you see a to-do list for your next DIY project with a button next to it that indicates you can use it now. You click on that button and you end up interacting with an instant app that already knows about you and the list you’re interested in. Even before realizing it, you’re set up with an account and the ability to work with the list. That is because with instant apps, you’re always one click away from actual use not only of the app but also of the targeted content you wanted in the first place.
Depending on what works best for you at a particular point in time, you may use it either by navigating its simple but effective visual user interface or simply by talking to it. Why would you look at a screen and use its visual interface when you can simply say “move the salt and bread from Safeway to Whole Foods”? After all, instant means not only that you can get to use it instantly but also that you can do what you need to do with the minimum amount of friction. Are you interacting with an instant app that is difficult to use when you are on the go because it only has a visual interface and you have to constantly look at the screen? That’s friction that the developer needs to know about it.
As you work with the bot, it accumulates knowledge about you based on your interactions. When the time comes, it asks you the right questions and avoids asking more than necessary. It’s always a step ahead of you, anticipating what you need and guiding you through the available options.
If you need to make a payment you configure your messaging app with payment and shipping information. After that you're always one click away from payments in your messaging app even when using other instant apps.
Are you creating a resource, for example a list of items for your next camping trip and you want to send it to your friends? Just open the instant app in the messaging app that knows about your friends and send them the list. It doesn’t matter if they are not already using the same instant app. Once they open the link, they will get the list and they’ll start working with it. Instantly.
Your friends are not already on your favorite messaging platform? That’s ok, just send them a message with the link to the list, perhaps on SMS. They’ll be able to open it and work with it, instantly. They may not get all the capabilities that you have and that’s very likely ok for what they need to do. They want to do more? Sure, they can open their preferred messaging platform app and start using the instant app from there. Once they interact with it on a new channel, the instant app can reconcile their identities and provide a richer experience.
You want to make a change to the list and don’t have your phone with you but you’re sitting on the couch? Just ask Alexa or your Google Home device to make the change. All the users you shared the list with, regardless of whether they are running in Messenger, Kik or any other system will be able to see the change. Instantly.
Regardless of whether we call them bots or instant apps, these solutions represent the next step in app evolution. They provide a much better user experience by eliminating unnecessary frictions. When it comes to naming, we will definitely continue using the term bot to describe solutions that run in particular messaging systems. At the same time we will articulate the vision of instant apps and use this term to describe more general solutions that have multiple presences, especially when these are not all in messaging systems.
To get a glimpse on some of these frictionless experiences, please check out our Lists instant app. It helps you be more organized by creating lists and sharing them on Messenger and SMS. You can start interacting with it here or by scanning the following code in Messenger:
To learn more about how to build Instant Apps, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would be more than happy to help you on the journey of providing instant gratification experiences to your customers.