Bot building is a nascent field, and that’s part of what makes it exciting: It offers a chance to escape conventional design paradigms and the saturation of existing app stores to create something that’s refreshingly new.
Graphical software designers have graphic design tools — conversational software designers should have conversation design tools. Bot builders need software to craft witty responses, organize dialog trees, and get a bird’s-eye view of their bot’s vocabulary and vibe. These tools should also let us create message units that account for the different interface capabilities of the different chat platforms (Slack buttons, Facebook Messenger suggested replies). Finally, they need to have powerful collaboration features that allow several people to work on the same dialog trees, leave comments, and share their work easily.
This immaturity also presents some problems to overcome. Platform-level features such as payments and GUI elements are still missing from most chat apps, there are no dominant bot marketplaces to fuel discovery, and bots aren’t mainstream just yet. One of the more prominent issues, however, is the lack of third-party tools and APIs for bot builders. Here are some I’d love to see.
1.) Manual error handling
One of the greatest benefits of conversational UI is that it blurs the distinction between the support team’s capabilities and the software’s functionality. When a user makes a request that the bot is unable to fulfill, a human can step in and make sure everybody’s happy, not only by teaching and guiding, like a traditional support rep, but also by fulfilling the request manually.
Ideally, to accomplish this, we’d be able to connect to a simple API that provides a structured view of all our conversations, highlight errors, and allow a human to step in the bot’s shoes and reply manually.
A solution already exists for traditional web apps — Intercom, for example, lets you chat with any website visitor from a central dashboard. A similar tool for bots, one that would account for different chat platform quirks and allow us to manually set fallbacks and notifications and to chat with our bot’s users, would be amazing.
2.) Mass messaging
When your users are already interacting with you inside a chat wrapper, there’s no point in emailing them. Instead, product announcements, promotions, and newsletter updates should all be communicated within the chat environment. To do that, we need tools that’ll allow bot builders to create rich, expressive messages with images, videos, and GIFs and send them to all users of the bot or just certain segments. Additional abilities might include scheduling (making sure a user is online when they get the message), message merge (automatically swapping predetermined tags with the user’s personal details), and performance analysis.
With Yala, we’ve already implemented a super secret broadcast feature accessible to admins through a slash command. It’s great, and I’d love to see a more powerful version.
3.) Native ads
Bots need to monetize. Some will monetize by offering subscription services; others will be able to sell products in-app and earn a fee. Judging by web and native apps monetization, however, the majority of bots will earn money by displaying ads.
This has to be done carefully. Chat ads are far more obtrusive than traditional display ads, and they are more likely to be downright annoying. On the flip side, there is great potential to increase engagement and ROI. Selling conversational ads is a huge opportunity, and can provide value to users, bot builders, and advertisers alike.
The bot trend has preceded the tools needed to facilitate great bot building. We’ve seen this happen before: Apps became a thing before Mixpanel and Intercom, and gold miners came to California before they had Levi Strauss to sell them jeans. The rise of a new business model or platform usually creates brand new opportunities for peripheral service providers. As bots become more mainstream, entrepreneurs who create tools for bot builders will prosper.