When Facebook announced that chatbots were coming to Messenger, I got excited. This was big with a capital “B!” Now, brands will be able to reach their customers directly, instantly, easily, and meaningfully.

I got very excited.

Then I dug deeper. I dug very deep. It took a little while.

You see, I’ve been around the block a few times. I’ve seen the Next Great Thing come in with a bang and leave with a whimper. I’ve noticed that the more people hype its coming, the less likely it’s truly earth-shattering.

I’ve seen it far too often to take hype at face value. Still, I wanted to study this in depth.

Let’s start with what a chatbot is

Bots are software that do things in response to something else. They do that with no human involvement. A chatbot responds to chat messages with a chat message. That message could be information you requested, a link to a website, a promo code or coupon.

It could be pretty much anything.

That’s nothing new. Twitter had that ability for at least ten years. Big whup.

If you use IFTTT or Zapier, you use bots.

Again, big whup.

What a chatbot isn’t

A bot is not a replacement for human intervention. It could be, but only for very simple things. A bot is an idiot. It only does what it’s told to do, nothing more nothing less.

The premise is that AI will drive it.How’s that again?

Sure, AI is cool. Is it ready for prime time? (tweet)

What about Microsoft’s infamous “Nazi chatbot?”

The way things stand right now, moving your customer experience to a chatbot is outsourcing it to an idiot. (tweet) That’s not the best idea.

I’m sure that will change one day. That day is not today.

A bot is not a replacement for an app. It can replace some app functions, though. The coming bot craze does not spell doom for app developers. It’s quite the contrary. If you develop in Node.js, Ruby, or Python, your near future looks bright indeed.

Why I don’t think Chatbots are ready for prime time

Forget the tech for now. It’s a question of reach. No one chat platform has enough of it. Facebook Messenger is the biggest with 900,000,000 regular mobile users.

That sound like a lot. Is it?

Let me ask you this question. Would you build a tool that only reaches mobile users who don’t have smartphones?

No? Neither would I. The numbers just aren’t there.

It may surprise you that there are 850,000,000 mobile subscribers who don’t have smartphones. That’s about the same number as smartphone owners who use Messenger.

The numbers just aren’t there.

Yet. Chatbots have the potential to drive Messenger adoption. I would expect Messenger to see a serious rise in user count

Chatbots are a great idea. Whether they live up to that potential, or whether they fall through misuse is an open question. (tweet)

Bots are getting the press. They weren’t the biggest announcement

I think the more important announcements were the ones mentioned late in the news cycle. Facebook announced two new Messenger APIs, Send and Receive. The way they announced them, I thought it was a single API. It was almost like an after-thought.

These APIs allow for easy integration into just about anything. Why the downplay? There’s more utility value here than in bots.

You can read David Marcus’ full official announcement here.

The BIG Un-Announcement: Facebook has come out for mobile experience.

Facebook validated the premise that consumers and brands want to talk to each other. I’m not so sure bots are the way to do it. They are a step in the right direction, though.

The end goal is to have brands and consumers talk. They should talk on-demand. They should talk with a minimum of nonsense.

I’m a big fan of that goal.

That wheel has already been invented

Once we integrate the idea of direct brand/consumer communication into our consciousness, we can see clearly. We don’t need anything new.

The wheel exists. It has existed for about 23 years now.

Maybe that’s the problem.

We don’t want to believe that the solution has been around that long. We don’t want to believe it was right under our noses this whole time.

Better to think we were just waiting for this new chatbot thingie to pop up. It’s less embarrassing that way.

I won’t mention it just yet.

This technology gives instant access to 3,300,000,000 consumers. (tweet)

They like it. They respond instantly to it.

It’s how they communicate with friends.

It’s how they prefer to communicate with everybody.

It’s how they’d like to communicate with you.

It taught us all to type with our thumbs.

Yes, it’s SMS. You may prefer it’s other name, texting.

Connect to a gateway and a server and you have the ultimate consumer interaction tool.

So – Holy Grail or No?

I’d have to go with, “No.” At best, I might go with, “Not yet, but worth keeping an eye on.”

I do think that direct consumer/brand contact is the goal. If it isn’t the Holy Grail, it’s the next step towards finding it.

The next post in this series will discuss how you can do just that.

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About the Author

Andy Bruce: Co-Founder Of MobileXco

Andy Bruce is a co-founder of MobileXCo, a mobile technology and solution provider.

MobileXCo simplifies the world of mobile marketing.  Do you want to connect, identify, and build 1:1 relationships with your customers? Ask me about the Tether™ Experience Management Platform!

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