Lab Notes

Messaging, Bots, and Conversational Interfaces

We are at a crossroads. It’s becoming more difficult for organizations to convince users to download and use their app.

This ubiquitous challenge stems not from the app or producer, but the change in user behaviors. Consumers are simply not using apps the same way they did when smartphones were first popularized.

To adapt to these changes, more thought must be turned toward the breakout growth of messaging service usage.

In examining the messaging landscape, a clearer picture of the future forms. A future where users don’t download a new app for a new experience, but interact through messaging with a company, person, or program.

This conversation about conversation is focused on three primary thoughts:

  1. The struggle for acquisition and retention of app users
  2. Conversational UI and frictionless connection
  3. The future of chat bots

It would be wrong to suggest mobile app usage is decreasing, but new app adoption is seeing shift and erosion. This shouldn’t be a surprise.

In 2014 Quartz reported that most users download zero new apps per month. The way we use apps is also changing. Last year Comscore stated that 80% of users time on mobile takes place primarily in only three apps.

Casey Newton tackled the app store’s shrinking middle-class in this longread.

While the app market at large moves through transition, messaging has taken center stage. Snapchat, Slack, Line, and many others have exploded. Stewart Butterfield recently tweeted that 20% of Slack’s users have joined since the new year.

Facebook may be the strongest example of this shift toward messaging. The purchase of Whatsapp has proved a long-play in the messaging space overseas, but domestically Facebook saw massive growth and success with a strong roadmap for Messenger.

Facebook’s emphasis on Messenger shows where the company believes the future to be.

The forceful takeover of messaging applications is indicative of the ‘always on’ information exchange users now value and expect.


Messaging’s rise has been meteoric in promoting level of frictionless interaction that’s been missing from many applications. The process of using an app seems arduous when compared to the seamless interaction of a messaging interface.

In his fantastic post on messaging and AI, Ted Livingston(CEO of Kik) juxtaposes the friction between using an app, and using messaging:

App

…A stadium is developing an app that will let you order from your seat… Imagine I had sat down and found that there was a sticker on the back of the chair in front of me that said, “Want a beer? Download our app!” Sounds great!

I’d unlock my phone, go to the App Store, search for the app, put in my password, wait for it to download, create an account, enter my credit card details, figure out where in the app I actually order from, figure out how to input how many beers I want and of what type, enter my seat number, and then finally my beer would be on its way.

Messaging

Imagine the stadium one more time, except now instead of spending millions to develop an app, the stadium had spent thousands to develop a simple, text-based bot. I’d sit down and see a similar sticker: “Want a beer? Chat with us!” with a chat code beside it. I’d unlock my phone, open my chat app, and scan the code.

Instantly, I’d be chatting with the stadium bot, and it’d ask me how many beers I wanted: “1, 2, 3, or 4.” It’d ask me what type: “Bud, Coors, or Corona.” And then it’d ask me how I wanted to pay: Credit card already on file (**** 0345), or a new card.
The difference is clear. To users, messaging removes nearly all the cumbersome barriers app creators see as features and UI. Users are flocking to messaging, because it is a simpler way of interacting with a service and person.


Many services have already emerged from from messaging apps. Brands now leverage Facebook Messenger for customer service.

Operator has based an entire e-commerce concierge service on messaging. In the future, these services will be manned by programs.

While most messaging systems haven’t fully opened the door to bots yet, it’s coming soon. Facebook’s M product is marrying human services with automated bot services.

Slack has led the charge with bots like Hubot, Birdly, and a horde of other integrations that can streamline work within the messaging interface.

This is the next big horizon in messaging. Our text bubbles are being invaded by AI bots fulfilling tasks and services through messaging interactions.

Here is how it looks:

Statsbot

This is Statsbot. A simple little robot that can be added to slack to gather analytics on websites. Statsbot isn’t very advanced, but he is learning new skills all the time.

He asks a series of questions, and through basic commands you can customize the way you would like him to work. New services like him are popping up every day.


Product teams need to now consider conceptualizing within the context of messaging. Begin critically at conversational UI and its role in the future.

Work, money, and everyday life are all transitioning to conversation. Each day we move closer to a landscape of ubiquitous interaction and connectivity, Act accordingly.

GoKart is a digital invention & growth lab named one of Inc’s Fastest Growing Private Companies in America.

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