An internet bot, also known as web robot, WWW robot or simply bot, is a software application that runs automated tasks over the Internet. Typically, bots perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human alone.
This is by far the largest category of functional bots. In a way, all other categories are spin-offs of this one. These bots take on some concrete challenge and try solving it better than existing apps or websites. For example, streaming music in your living room by saying “Alexa, play my library” is more convenient than clicking a couple of buttons on your mobile device to achieve the same result. We are seeing multiple brands toying with the messaging canvas for shopping, traveling and many other use-cases. These bots attempt to disrupt by reducing friction versus more traditional ways of ‘doing things.’
By ‘one-trick pony’ bots, I’m referring to all those mini-utilities with a messaging interface that helps you turn an image to a meme, a piece of text into a video mashup, or let you imagine Lebron James as a chicken or as a homeless dude (results below). It’s easy to dismiss the one-trick ponies but sometimes they surface impressive cognitive capabilities, and they have an extreme viral potential. Some of them can become disruptive with time when use-cases suddenly expand beyond the modest start. Think Snapchat’s ‘simple’ spectacles.
Here we find bots that count on their ability to provide the right info at the right time and place. Examples are Foursquare’s Marsbot, Weathercat Ponchoand KLM’s bot. These bots can be useful for narrow use-cases if they are careful not to irritate their victims with useless notifications. For true mass adoption, they will need to provide personal, smart and timely recommendations on a use-case that’s important enough for most of us to engage frequently. Not the easiest of tasks.
This category is super-interesting. Similar to other categories, they are meant to accomplish a task, but their distinct feature is that they build on the power of a group or the crowd. They do so while making use of the unique nature of messaging platforms. Swelly, Sensay, Tinder Stacks, Fam, and obviously Slack bots provide some examples. Social bots can become truly viral, even for simple use cases. I believe we will see a spike here once Facebook adds the ability to join users to a bot conversation.
These bots are also a sub-category of Optimizers. They are special in that they help us avoid unpleasant experiences. The idea is to exchange a talk to a cold hearted person with a chat with a friendly robot;). Fighting a parking ticket, customer support issues, fending-off obnoxious suitors are some examples. I loved listening to Joshua Browder describing his DoNotPay journey. This guy understands the medium like few do. Similar to the Optimizers category, these bots live (and currently mostly die) by their ability to get things done comparing to alternatives.
Bots that aim to chat with users for the sake of conversation and engagement. Xiaoice garnered an absolutely massive user base with this approach. Automated celebrity and personal bots also belong in this category. These bots can truly become opinion leaders. Bot designers may thus opt to accomplish social or commercial goals throughout the conversation. Despite the promise, there are big technical gaps between ‘chattiness’ and the ability to complete actual tasks through conversations. Bot makers need to be super crisp about the value they expect to provide and beware of falling into traps others have been kind enough to mark for them ;).
This is just another name for the intelligent personal assistants such as Alexa, Siri, Cortana and Allo. They are evolving as platforms that can launch a variety of skills/actions (bots). They will address the bot discovery challenge, with time.
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