Chatbots have been around for years, pretty much as long as IRC's actually. But recently a slightly newer breed have been cropping up from the likes of Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft. They've all been tapping into the idea of chatbots consumers on a mass scale.
What are you chatting about?
Lets backtrack a second and figure out just what a chatbot is. Very simply, a chatbot is a program which listens in a chatroom and is programmed to respond in particular ways to certain things. Lets take an example, an old IRC I used to be part of had a bot which listened for the slash command
/point $name which would add a point to the named user and
/depoint $name which would remove a point from them. This was used a bit of an "upvote" system for us to indicate when we liked something. So really what we have is an application monitoring a chatroom and responding to various messages.
How are these used today? Well they're still very big even without the work to turn them into consumer interfaces. Take Hubot for instance, this is GitHub's chatbot which sits in their company chatroom and listens for commands. It then does all sorts of operations such as deploying applications or monitoring server loads. This sort of thinking has given rise to the new idea of ChatOps (Chat based operations).
So what are the big names doing with them?
Everyone has identified the usefulness of bots with consumers now. Over all it's an attempt to automate away the idea of instant chat operators but also to give a new interface for users to interact with your product. Think about ordering some food with someone like JustEat using facebook messenger, that would be cool right? Well it exists.
So facebook are now allowing hooks into messenger for chatbot developers, but others are getting involved as well. Amazon have the Echo now which is essentially the same by via voice, and Microsoft are jumping in by trying to create infrastructure for developers.
Want to know more? Well here are some useful links to get you going.
I blog about things I enjoy and things I do, so it should be no surprise that I'm drifting into the chatbot area for a little bit. But more on that later.