Rise of the Chatbots: the consequences for websites and apps

The inevitable

It is evident: the Rise of the Chatbots is happening as we speak. Just like banking evolved from traditional services towards  mobile banking – with an in-between step towards online banking – and is racing towards Bitcoin transactions, Chatbots are the next logical step in the technical evolution.

After mobile apps made the always-on mindset common good and started delivering huge computing power available in the palm of our hands, the way we interact with our mobiles and online services is the next thing to evolve.

The easy of use and low-barrier interaction model of chatting with a service in the literal sense (not the API chatting fashion we mobile/web developers are used to) will bring a new era to interaction with your devices and online services.

I recently came across this article on chatbotsmagazine.com, titled “How Bots Will Completely Kill Websites and Mobile Apps“. It shows Matt Schlicht‘s take on how the ease-of-use and high adaptation rate that chatbots provide, will crush the urge for conventional websites and mobile apps.

I agree on the fact that Chatbots will become big. And while they do so, they take over a lot of the functions that websites and apps provide nowadays. But even so, websites and apps stay relevant.

Let me explain why websites and mobile apps will keep providing, even after Rise of the chatbots after the break.

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I Agree on the fact that bots will become big and take quite a chunk of the functions that websites and apps provide. They won’t kill websites and apps entirely, though.


Two sides of the coin

When you look at what it is that websites and mobile apps provide in large, you can see that they provide two purposes:

  1. Provide functionality
    Websites and Apps provide actual functionality. The best websites succeed in delivering functionality by implementing a User Experience that matches the mindset and abilities of the intended users. Functionality like delivering data, computing input and providing entertaining, just to name a few.
  2. Present information and content
    Notice that I describe information and content separately. Content is static and provides information on a certain topic.
    Information, on the other hand, can be mutated, calculated or extracted from multiple origins and parameters and show us data from a predefined and (often computed) perspective.

iOS 10 UIChatbots, a new weapon in the UX arsenal

When you look at how Chatbots fit into the whole picture you’ll notice how they address interaction. Chatbots make working with computers more human by removing the need for learning application specific interfaces and native buttons.
In a way, they are an evolution of the universal UI languages that made mobile operating systems like iOS and, later, Android effective and popular.

By now, nearly everybody has used a mobile chat application like iMessage, Whatsapp, and WeChat. The usage for services like Whatsapp are growing harder than before and Chatbots provide a welcome addition.
Not only do Chatbots remove the need for us to learn a UX language or get accustomed to specific interfaces, they also bring extra value.
Facebook ChatbotJust like humans can interpret language, Chatbots can do so now, too. Language understanding frameworks like Microsoft’s Luis are popping up everywhere and they are backed by a lot of factors, among which Machine Learning platforms are a factor that makes Chatbots not only comprehend wat you say to them; it also makes them react smarter with each interaction and conversation that they perform.

As Forbes correctly mentions, one of the factors that enables Chatbots to gain ground is the availability of voice recognition hardware and software in your smartphone. Talking to your phone to let it perform commands might seem somewhat awkward for now, but I am sure that this is just a phase. Just like online banking made us feel weird in the beginning.
After all, after watching 10+ seasons of Star Trek, nobody questioned the fact that Starfleet personnel
talked to Computer using what is essentially a minified mobile device pinned to their tight costumes.

Star Trek Communicator Badge

What is left for the non-chatbots?

When the dust settles in the world after the Chatbot invasion, and they have become a common way to interact, what good will websites and apps do us?

Here are 3 purposes that I think websites and apps will fulfill in the after scenario:

  1. The bridge between chatbot and hardware
    First of all, they will still harness the chatbots and act as the bridge between the chatbot core functionality and our hardware. Apps will encapsulate and communicate with the the APIs that control and read the hardware for our mobile devices and websites will do the same for your laptop (or desktop, if you still use one of those).
  2. Security and Permission intermediate
    Apps and websites will get to handle the task of asking for, remembering and setting permissions and security related configurations. By asking the end user what kind of access and permissions it needs, we humans will need them to act as an intermediate that is viewable and controllable directly by us. Because we can’t have our bots go and do stuff on their own now, do we?
  3. Visualising information and content
    While chatbots are cute and easy, showing an interactive graph from the latest data analysis report will not be as easy to do in a relative small chat window. By using Chatbots as the interactive element and letting it control your website and/or app it will utilize the visualization possibilities to display information on your screens. There will be a shift of the focus for websites and apps towards the rendering of information. Whether it is in the current state or the near future augmented reality experience that is upcoming.

Perhaps there even are more factors that will defend the right of the existence of websites and apps. Let me know what role you think will be for them after Chatbots have taken its chunk.