It was a normal Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles when I had a realization of what chatbots could be. I was working on my MacBook out of a coffee shop called Alfreds, which is known to be a celebrity hotspot in West Hollywood. I go there regularly because of the friendly, laid-back environment. I personally couldn’t care less if I saw a celebrity. But the irony is that I was there working on a new project: a chatbot of a celebrity. Why?

There’s a different purpose for chatbots

One day, I was having lunch on the colorful Hollywood Blvd. I’ve had lunch there a bunch of times, but this time, I started to really observe how enthusiastic kids were to take photos with their beloved movie characters. To me, these were just people in costumes, but for them, it was like time stood still. They were, in a way, having a great user experience. So I thought to myself, perhaps not all chatbots need to have an advance machine learning algorithm and an impressive natural language processor. Maybe some chatbots just have to be special, the way those people in costumes were for those kids. But what does that really mean?

As a marketer-turned-developer, I knew the main challenge for building a chatbot wasn’t going to be technical; it was more about creating a chatbot that people will care about. So I thought, why not build a chatbot my daughter would use? My daughter, like most eight-year-old girls, is a huge fan of Selena Gomez. And I used to have a crush on Selena Gomez when I was younger. Still do. Especially after that “Hands to Myself” video. So I didn’t hesitate to create SelenaBot.

What I created wasn’t a breakthrough in A.I., but one feature within it helped me see how chatbots can gain more popularity.

Building an easier but more meaningful chatbot is important

The first problem I encountered while building SelenaBot was the one at the core function of every chatbot: natural language processing. How will I get the bot to answer any question the user throws at it? And how will I get real answers from Selena herself without knowing her?

My solution: Extract data from interviews and structure them as Q&A’s. I did a Google search for interviews with Selena Gomez and saved all of the questions and answers from those interviews. And just like that, I had Q&A’s I can use for my bot with real answers from Selena.

The user can simply browse a gallery of cards with questions on them and tap on “Ask this” when they come across a question that sparks their interest. Here’s an example:

Above: Screenshots of a Q&A taken from an interview

This solution is counterintuitive for us bot developers, because it seems to go against the whole idea of natural language processing. But I quickly realized that suggesting questions was really important, especially when it comes to younger users. Besides, who wants to physically type out an entire question? I’m kidding; but there’s some truth to that, considering the social trends of our rising generation.

It’s not just about efficiency either. It can be a lot of pressure to think of good questions to ask. This would be especially true if you were told to ask a question to one of your idols in real life. So it makes sense for bots for public figures to take away the pressure to think of good questions to ask on the spot. With pre-installed Q&A’s, you don’t even have to think of questions to ask, because they’re already there. And if the user wants to add a new question that isn’t there, they can just submit one.

What needs to happen next

We need more chatbots that reflect the personas of people we care about. We can start with public figures. These chatbots will consequently strengthen the brand of public figures, which will then increase user adoption of chatbots overall.

SelenaBot is just a start. She also does a quiz (data collected from interviews, as well), shows you tour dates, social media updates, lets you listen to music, and does anything else you can expect to find on a website.

Using the Chatfuel platform she was built on, SelenaBot can also broadcast a message to all of her fans whenever she has updates and/or new Q&A’s. This is something that wasn’t possible before chatbots. With chatbots like SelenaBot, millions of fans can get to know their favorite public figures on a personal level without reading another interview or talking to them directly.

And millions of people will start to learn first-hand why chatbots are cool.

This post appeared originally on Chatbots Magazine.

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