Thursday, August 17, 2017
What is A Chatbot? Is this the future or just another over-promise by the technology industry.

A chatbot is a computer program which conducts a conversation via auditory or textual methods. This technology is designed to replace human interaction with customers and help them with processing orders or providing customer service. The promise made by vendors of this technology is that it would deliver smarter customer service through this automation. Historically, bots were used to do a simple task at computer speed like search engine spiders, but now they are adding an artificial intelligence layer to it.


They have now created a chatbot for magazines that I thought I should share with my readers. I came across this one made for Paste Magazine that is available for Facebook Messenger users. Paste Magazine is a website that offers lifestyle stories on music, entertainment, books, politics, travel and food. The chatbot uses a text base command structure where you can type in key words and get a response from the system.




For supposedly a leading edge technology it reminded me of the text base commands used in the ancient MS-Dosc computer systems that was used in the 1980’s. It even replied to me that it did not understand, so much for an intelligent computer being smarter than a human. I found the system confusing to use, as I had to remember a whole new set of commands.


According to the Paste Magazine website as you read more and more using the bot, it automatically adjusts to your tastes and interests to ensure that you’re getting articles sent to you that you actually care about. This is all done through an “inferred profile,” which is created by what kind of articles you read. This inferred profile is what allows the bot to include certain degree of serendipitous news that is outside of your interests, so that you don’t end up with a broken record of echo-chamber stories. Once you click on the article you want to read you are sent to the website. On the surface this is just a new way to drive traffic to your website via Facebook.


A 2017 Forrester Research Report on bots says there are more than 40,000 chatbots created in the 12 months since Kik (An Android based message app) and Facebook Messenger opened up their platforms. The promise of chatbots is that companies can have a one on one conversation with their customers on scale versus human interaction that traditionally has long wait times on the phone sometimes during peak demand periods. According to the chart below content delivery in the future will most likely be automated.


Another type of bot that is getting attention are social bots and according to this MIT article is instrumental in spreading fake news that is part of the ad fraud industry as some Twitter accounts are automated. Chengcheng Shao at Indiana University who studied this trend says “Bots play a particularly significant role in the spread of fake news soon after it is published. What’s more, these bots are programmed to direct their tweets at influential users. Automated accounts are particularly active in the early spreading phases of viral claims, and tend to target influential users.” (What will these tech crooks think of next)

The adoption of chatbots is still in it early stages of development and like any technology there will be some bugs in its implementation, but the potential impact of chatbots is immense if the technologists can get the right recipe. The fear of being left behind is always a driving force of the adoption of new technologies, but when does a publisher jump on the bandwagon and invest thousands of dollars in this technology.  You have to determine will it drive more traffic to my site so I can get more ad dollars or new paid/opt-in subscribers? If not I would suggest you take take a pass. Perhaps I am a little old school in my thinking as I still rather wait for a real person to talk to as the personal touch is always best. I will like to see how bots be charming and persuasive or will they just act like a robot. Or better yet how they will handle complaints and dissatisfied customers.


- Martin Seto
About Me
Martin Seto

Martin Seto is the producer of the Canadian Online Publishing Awards (COPAS) with 30 years of life expereince in technology, advertising, media and creative exploration. He can be reached at marty(dot)seto(at) or 416-907-6562, and on LinkedIn.

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