Why Chatbots are Hot

Chatbots are hot right now. It has all the hype. That and virtual reality. But let’s talk about chatbots right now. I’m writing a post on the company blog about chatbots, but I thought I’d put down some thoughts here. Figuring out why chatbots even matter is an interesting exercise. It seems obvious: communications on the Internet is an utter disaster at the moment.

There are four factors. First, online ads downright suck. The ads themselves are not creative, and they are in your face. That is a terrible combination. Agencies and marketers don’t get excited about banner ads and text ads. Unless they are “digital” marketers, and that is all they know. Video and native ads have possibilities, but those executions are bad. Our brains have become dulled from creating banner and text ads. What’s wrong with interrupting the user experience with overlaying ads and tiny close buttons?

More important question is why TV and radio get away with it instead. My main theory is even though we all grew up with interruptive ads on those mediums, we had no alternatives. There was no Facebook or Snapchat to occupy our attentions during commercial breaks. Would TV and radio ads be possible if created today? Another theory is that Americans like breaks in stories. Look at popular American sports: football, baseball, and basketball. They are all situational. One team gets the opportunity to score, and then the next team tries to score. While not entirely applicable to basketball, timeouts make it situational.

If a viewer has watched a few shows on Netflix, how can they go back to live TV? It is painful. The only reason to watch live TV is live events like sports. But social media, which is taking eyeballs from TV ads, makes live TV worth watching. Sharing thoughts on social networks when watching live TV makes it more enjoyable.

Back to why chatbots are huge right now. The second factor is messaging is such a big deal. Business Insider created the chart above showing how messaging usage has surpassed social networks. It’s understandable. As soon as a social network gets big, mom & dad come, the advertisers move in. Then the cool kids migrate to another social network. But the way messaging works, you don’t have to see your dumb uncle’s Trump posts. Messaging allows users the one on one interaction, while interacting with separate small groups. Kids are comfortable with the UX and asynchronous nature of messaging. They are the perfect audience for chatbot-type interactions.

Next, websites and apps are painful. Marketers and agencies design websites and apps without putting the customer at the center. Look at any “digital” agency website. Stuff is flying around, punch the visitor in the face annoying. The websites are a demonstration of how they can grab the visitors attention. Sure. Throw in the bloated nature of websites due to ads and trackers. Why are we surprised ad blocking is on the rise?

The last factor, AI is more accessible. Computing and infrastructure costs have plummeted. The resources to build AI and machine learning are available to anyone. Granted, a lot of what we see are more of decision trees than AI, but it is a start in the right direction. The investments in technologies are already evident. Siri (ok, not so much), Alexa, the multitude of Google products. Plugin architecture of these platforms increases the impact and value of what AI provides. Once users are comfy with AI as their primary interface, they will demand it everywhere. More on this next time.

Let’s hope brands don’t build crappy chatbots and screw up this game-changing opportunity.