What are chatbots? (Yes, you should get them even if you’re a noob)

Adithya Shreshti December 13, 2016 4 min

Story Highlights

  • Chatbots facilitate an interactive, conversational way of getting multiple things done via a single interface
  • They are powered by a set of rules, APIs or artificial intelligence / machine learning
  • You can have a news bot, a weather bot, a grocery bot, a scheduling bot, a personal finance bot and many more

Our lives are getting increasingly busier — between balancing the demands of work and home, negotiating crazy traffic on our commute to and from work, attending to mundane essentials like groceries, meals and laundry and squeezing in the odd movie, bestseller, pub crawl or road trip on the weekend, 24 hours a day are just not enough. But 24 hours is all we get, and that’s non-negotiable.

Haven’t you wondered often how we could better manage our lives if multitasking were to be formalised with some technological assistance? Well, it’s finally happening, with some help from chatbots.

A chatbot will converse with you intelligently on the chat interface of FB Messenger itself, so you don’t have to juggle multiple tabs or apps. It is a much more personalised and fun experience  

Here’s an example of how it works: Say you are chatting with your friend on Facebook (FB) Messenger and decide to catch up with her/him that evening. Even as you chat with your friend, you can reserve a table at your favourite restaurant, book a cab to pick you (or your friend) up and order some chocolates to take along as a gift.

Yes, we know there are hundreds of mobile apps and websites to do all of this. Then, why do you need a chatbot? Well, a chatbot will converse with you (intelligently, understanding your preferences and giving you drilled-down, customised options) on the chat interface of FB Messenger itself, so you don’t have to juggle multiple tabs or apps. Also, the process is much more personalised and fun because you’re talking to someone that almost instinctively (that’s AI at work) understands what you want. How cool and seamless is that?

So, what are bots, aka chatbots?

Chatbots are essentially conversational agents — a computer program powered by artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning, designed to simulate an intelligent conversation with human beings through auditory or textual methods.

They are an interactive, conversational way of getting multiple things done via a single interface (vis-a-vis going into multiple apps) like Facebook Messenger, Kik, Skype, Line, WeChat, iMessage or SMS. Chatbots are usually based on a set of rules, APIs, and sometimes integrated with artificial intelligence and/or machine learning.

Now, you can have a news bot, weather bot, grocery bot, scheduling bot, personal finance bot and even a friend bot!  

They’ve been around for a while now — think ELIZA, Siri, Viv — but the accessibility of chatbots across messenger-based platforms has taken the technology to another level.

Now, you can have a news bot, weather bot, grocery bot, scheduling bot, personal finance bot and even a friend bot!

How do they work?

There are three different types of chatbots on the basis of their funtionality.

1. The simplest of chatbots are based on simple sets of rules — like a rule that defines a chatbot to reply “Hi there” to a user when the latter says “Hi”, “Hello”, “Hey” etc. This works on the base idea that the person building the chatbot already knows what the user would say and the replies are fed accordingly.

2. The second category are chatbots are based on APIs with integration of services — like receiving the weather forecast at a particular time of the day or fetching news from a particular source or topic. Check out FactorDaily’s ecommerce bot. It delivers news and updates about all that is happening around e-commerce in India.

FactorDaily’s Ecommerce bot delivers news and updates from India’s ecommerce companies.

3. The most advanced chatbots work based on neuro linguistic programming / machine learning and artificial intelligence (these topics require altogether a different discussion) The best example would be Google Allo’s Google Assistant. Though nascent, it understands a user’s natural way of conversing and replies with relevant updates or content.

Where can you find chatbots?

You will find very cool and useful chatbots on the Botlist. You can filter them on the basis of the platform you want to use or categories. If you are a Slack user, your one-stop shop is the Slack app directory, which lists all the apps and chatbots that work on Slack.

Three utilitarian bots to try

  • Niki.ai: Do a prepaid recharge, make postpaid, DTH, datacard, or electricity bill payments; book cabs or a cooking gas refill, all on messenger.
  • Rapido: Book a Uber-like two-wheeler taxi on Rapido in places like Bengaluru.
  • Kukie: This bot recommends free startup resources to build your startup.

Want to build one?

The simplest of platforms to begin building a chatbot is Chatfuel. A beginner-friendly platform that does not require you to know computer languages, it helps you build semi-advanced bots with its simple user interface and tutorials. It works like a WYSIWYG editor for building bots. You can define the rules, feed AI rules and phrases, integrate APIs and feeds to fetch news and updates.


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