Despite their hype a year ago, few people have even heard of the messaging features.
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Chatbots, you may remember, were the hot new thing about a year ago.
Facebook had just announced the opening of its messaging platform to bots, which meant companies could interact with customers in new and exciting ways. All they had to do was invest in building a chatbot that could spontaneously “talk” to people, much like a real person would.
Competing platforms, such as Kik and Shopify, got in on the action too with their own bot offerings.
With app growth slowing and young people in particular going bananas over messaging apps, bots were sure to be the next big thing.
Except they haven’t been. As Marketing Land reports, about 78 per cent of adults in the U.S. have never even heard of chatbots. The trend itself has slid into an uncanny valley, with marketing folks now lamenting the failure.
“When you think of chatbots, we’re at an inflection point,” Doug Robinson, chief executive of Fresh Digital Group, told Marketing Land. “We have to figure a couple things out or we risk losing momentum. And that’s bad for everybody.”
The problem with chatbots hasn’t just been their lack of visibility, it’s been their general inability to deliver much usefulness. In reviewing Facebook’s weather and news bots last year, for example, news sites Gizmodo and The Verge found them to be “the slowest way to use the internet,” and “frustrating and useless.”
According to Marketing Land, some companies have found that the best chatbots are those that don’t actually do much chatting. Rather than spontaneously interacting with users, they instead provide a multiple-choice-style menu of answers to choose from. In that sense, they’re more menubots than chatbots.
A year ago, I spoke with Rollo Carpenter, who has been developing his award-winning Cleverbot for 20 years, about the chatbot trend. He wasn’t impressed.
“It may well be that these [bot] services have been done way too early because of competition between these big companies,” he said. “In order to do these things properly, we need a truer form of [artificial intelligence] or at least a truer form of machine understanding of language, which is not a solved problem at the moment.”
Whatever the reasons, it’s safe to add the chatbots flop to the list of overhyped technologies, the biggest addition to that cohort since wearables.
What’s next? The smart money is on augmented reality, a technology that everyone in the hype circle is expecting big things from.
In that vein, Apple is reportedly working on AR glasses. If true, look for that to be the next big tech failure, for several reasons. At its most basic, no one wants a screen right in front of their eyes. Somehow, ironically, few in the hype wave – and possibly Apple itself – can see that.