To bot, or not—it's suddenly an open question instead of a foregone conclusion.
Chatbots are increasingly an on-again-off-again hot topic among big brands these days—but is the timing right for startups and SMBs to get in on the action?
Once heralded as the new shiny object for marketers, Chatbot hype boomed with the launch of bots from the likes of Taco Bell, H&M, CNN and Unilever.
These miniature, AI-enabled apps were instantly seen as transformational. Now, instead of closing Facebook Messenger or Slack and opening up your Lyft app, for instance, you can simply message Lyft and ask for a ride using conversational language.
Last Summer, Facebook had 11,000 chatbots within weeks of launching its bot developer kit. By fall, that figure had hit 30,000.
But now, some are wondering if the rise of the bots was a bit premature.
No, I'm not (just) talking about Microsoft's bot Tay, which famously started spewing racist messages on Twitter within 24 hours of launch. I'm not even talking about pro-Trump chatbots that overwhelmed social media with fake news in the days leading up to the 2016 election.
It's more prosaic than all that: In recent weeks, Facebook announced it would scale back its chatbot efforts after bots were shown to fail 70% of customers' questions and requests.
Instead, Facebook is refocusing its efforts on getting a limited set of questions right and shifting to a persistent menu function that's more akin to browsing a website (or "cards" in bot vernacular) and clicking options instead of trying to have a "conversation."
But while big brands may end up taking a small step back as the technology's underpinnings get worked out, it's not out of the question to ask if this is the time for startups and SMBs to start checking bots out.
So far, smaller companies have been decidedly "wait and see"—over 60% of SMBs have reported being only "somewhat" to "not at all" interested in chatbots or bot-based commerce.
Still, with new DIY chatbot tools for even the least techy among us, now might be a good time to emphasize the "see" part of that equation, if for nothing else than understanding where the technology might go next.
Indeed, that was the topic of a recent segment of the Jim Blasingame Show, where Jim and I talk chatbots. To be clear, Jim's show focuses on SMBs. As you'll hear, this whole chatbot thing may be new territory for this audience.
Check it out here:
Rise of the Bots
Radio Interview with Rick Mathieson: Rise of the Bots
Approx. 4 min, 39 sec