In fairness back in 2016, there were plenty of reasons to get excited about chatbots:
Messaging is huge
Business Insider wrote, “Messaging apps ae bigger than social networks,” noting that chat had surpassed social networking in monthly active users/ this makes intuitive sense: We are social creatures, and so much of our lives involve conversation.
People don’t download apps
As of June of 2017, 51% of US smartphone users downloaded zero apps per month; 75% downloaded two or fewer.
Apps are hard to build
A lot of work goes into designing and building even a simpler app, be it native or web. With a bot, a lot of that complexity disappears – from user interaction to login to network traffic.
Messaging platforms are huge abroad
Merchants conduct business over SMS in emerging markets. In China, WeChat is a dominant platform for all sorts of products.
Every business wants a real relationship with its customers, and conversation is fundamental to relationships. That is especially true for brand driven businesses, but extends to others as well.
So, when you say all of the obvious pros of having a messenger chatbot, as well as the hype surrounding them, it makes it incredibly baffling that Messenger Chatbots didn’t take off at all, but why didn’t they?
Platforms are hard, Messenger Bots are harder
When Apple launched the iPhone SDK in 2008, we knew what an app looked like. The iPhone’s built in apps had established best practices, both for how a smartphone app worked and for the sorts of things it supported well. The SDK launched a year after the iPhone, so those first developers had well understood standards from which to work – as well as mature developer tools that had grown up with the Mac SDK.
The messaging platforms that launched in 2015-2016 lacked those advantages. Early Messenger bots seemed more like preliminary steps into the brave new world than instructive examples.
So, should Slack, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Kik, and others have built their own built in Messenger bots to lead the way? Should they have gotten more proactive with their bot funds and incubators, hiring mentors to educate participants in the way of the bot, or supplying engineering and design resources? Funded strategic bot initiatives at high profile partners? In my opinion, yes, yes, and yes. When it comes to platforms, developers are the users; and we don’t rely on our users to understand why or how to use products. We have to show them.
And what about WeChat in China? As it turns out, while WeChat is a messaging app with a successful platform, it’s not really a messaging platform. Much of it boils down to apps that can run inside of WeChat. As Dan Grover wrote in 2016, “The key wins for WeChat largely came from streamlining away app installation, login, payment, and notifications, optimisations having nothing to do with conversational metaphor in its UI