Some describe it as a North Star for the tech industry, while others deride it as marketing drivel from a one-time cheerleader of the dot-com boom (and bust). Say what you will about Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report, but for the past 21 years her annual tome — this year’s weighed in at 213 pages — has ignited conversation and controversy throughout Silicon Valley. For 2016, it’s what she barely mentioned that caught my attention.
The Morgan Stanley analyst turned Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner today presented her report at the Code Conference. Granted, Meeker was given just 24 minutes to address the impact of macro trends like slowing global economic growth, falling commodity prices, low interest rates and rising government debt on smartphones, social media, and transportation among other technologies. But nowhere did she mention bots.
Ok, not nowhere.
While onstage she didn’t mention them, but in fairness, her report does include the three-letter-word word a single time. On page 105, “bot” as in “chatbots” appears to reference their being introduced for Facebook’s Messenger platform in 2016. Once, that’s it. Why so little attention to a technology that is poised to revolutionize, yes, revolutionize, the way we humans connect with our devices?
Speaking broadly, bots are transforming the way we check the weather, book travel and shop for gifts. They’re also making their way into businesses by providing conversational interfaces for enterprise software and increasing communication and collaboration across multiple apps. Moreover, they could one day be used to help manage so-called smart cities.
Was this an omission by Meeker? I doubt it. Amazon, Google, Facebook, Kik, WeChat, Line, Telegram, and so on — all the cool kids, have them in some form or another. In fact, bots are implicit in several of the big trends she highlighted: the rise of voice-activated assistants like Echo, the growth of conversational commerce on WeChat and Messenger (see above image) and even the intelligent assistants making their way into automobiles.
So, instead of a Meeker oversight, I see validation for bots. An implicit recognition that these little pieces of intelligent software are actually a powerful, enabling technology.
After all, before joining KPCB, Meeker helped Morgan Stanley lead the Netscape IPO in 1995 and she helped lead the Google IPO nine years later. Over the years, she has presented her report at various conferences — from the Compliance Management Summit to Web 2.0 to D10 and D11, to today’s Code Conference — each reflecting the tone and tenor of that moment. The constant throughout is Meeker who quietly assembles vast, encyclopedic information and distills it into actionable data, with, well, bot-like precision.
Here is a full video of her presentation, with slides below: