The Wired article, entitled The Most Important Startup’s Hardest Worker Isn’t a Person, inspires an array of possibilities for business models based on chatbots.
From the same chat program, GitHubbers can ask Hubot which decidedly hip San Francisco food trucks are set up down the street—and Hubot will tell them. If they need a dial-in number for an afternoon conference call, Hubot can provide it. If they need something translated from Spanish, Hubot will translate. When prompted, Hubot can also post a tweet, unveil a graph of the latest GitHub.com traffic numbers, or boot up some servers to accommodate more traffic. Hubot can even tell a joke or find an animated GIF of something completely frivolous, like a dance party.
This recalls the vision of an intelligent agent that can interface with disparate applications or APIs, and provide a uniform (preferrably spoken or conversational) interface to the data they provide and the functions they perform. (See Cognitive Code. Update: Microsoft recently purchased a company called Wand Labs which was chartered to “tear down app walls, integrate your services in chat and make them work together.”)
The value propositions of Hubot seem to be
- Ubiquitously available (at least within the company and its culture)
- access to diverse functions and information
- through a single interface used for human conversations.
- A transcript that provides conversational context for events.
Hubot and other bots appear to have insinuated themselves into the chat systems increasingly used by employees for communication, providing automated functions in the context of those conversations. Another Wired article, entitled Slack is Overrun With Bots. Friendly, Wonderful Bots, indicates that bots have made Slack “much, much more than a communication tool”
We can imagine a business that implements one or more chatbots within an organization, using open-source and closed-source technology to deliver the above benefits to employees.
One problem the article points out is that “The system has a ‘command line’ feel to it…you have to use specific commands for it to work…Labert tries to remember the command for asking Hubot which food trucks are nearby. He can’t.” The conversational benefit comes primarily from the interface being embedded in a conversational communication tool, not from actual conversational interaction with the bot. In other words, natural language interaction technology would be a competitive advantage for the envisioned business