Bots have had their fair share of headlines for the last couple years, yet 2017 might have been decisive for the industry. In fact, all the major chat platforms have improved their bot API tremendously and the integration of bots within their messaging app.
Talking with a chatbot is now an everyday event, while the digital marketing industry as a whole is only now waking up to the potential of bots.
Today, the whole bot ecosystem is more mature. Each actor, from bot building services like us to the chat platforms is preparing their products and services for mass adoption. As a result, both the quality and the quantity of bots are increasing.
The bot ecosystem is moving away from the “fun chatbot phase” towards a “business bot phase”: bots which provide the answers to actual business issues, such as the scalability of support resources. This is being driven by corporate bots such as customer support chatbots.
As the main actors, aka Messenger, Slack, Twitter, Telegram and Kik are gaining new users and bots every day, patterns are emerging. Messenger is the home of business bots for instance, while Telegram is strong on chatbot games. Each network found its target market and is now adapting to it.
Winter is coming, and now is the time to look back and what happened this year on the main platforms. So, let us give an overview of the main channels for bots and what they’re best suited to.
Facebook Messenger bots: top bots for businesses?
Messenger is the leading bot platform for most. Many businesses now have a Messenger bot to do anything from QnA to customer support. While most messenger bots are still relatively simple, more and more complex use cases are emerging thanks to new techs.
Actually, chatbots were at the heart of Facebook’s F8 last April<fn>Facebook F8: what you should understand about the future of Messenger, Jasmine Anteunis, SAP Conversational AI Blog, 19 April 2017</fn>, the team announced no less than:
- Messenger Business Bots: several updates, including the chat extensions to allow multiple users to converse with the same bot instance (group conversation with a bot).
- Messenger Discover Tab: on mobile, Messenger users now have direct access from anywhere in the app to the Discover tab, listing new and top chatbots.
- Parametric QR Codes: owners of bots can now easily create flashable QR codes, with custom parameters, reducing the friction of the first message sent.
- Smart Replies for Pages: provides answers to the frequently asked questions (such as business hours, directions…). It uses AI to generate the reply, with the business page as the data source: the replies update automatically.
Want to have a deeper look at the Messenger chatbot ecosystem? Check our resources:
Messenger may be one of the most visible bot platforms today, yet the competition is fierce. Numerous challengers pushing the bot ecosystem forward. Let’s have a look:
Slack bots: top bots for productivity
Slack held its developer conference, Frontiers, in September this year<fn>Workspaces of the future — Slack Frontiers 2017 recap, Eric Soelzer, 15 September 2017</fn>. The team made several announcements with a recurring common theme: a gradual reduction of friction between the products we use at work every day.
First of all, the Slack team is working towards reducing context switching, i.e allowing users to get more work done straight from Slack, with new features such as shared channels. This allows admins to open selected channels to people from other organizations, to reduce friction and increase collaboration.
Also, the team announced Drivebot, offering a deeper integration with Google Drive services. Slack found its market and is now pushing its product every day to fit it best. The impact of Slack on companies and startups has been massive already, yet this might just be the beginning.
Slack bots can reach vast numbers of users in a professional context. Finally, because many Slack bots are here to make their users more productive, they can reach record high retention rates.
Twitter bots: before it was cool
In its own way, Twitter was the first platform to pioneer the use of bots at scale. While it wasn’t deliberate on the part of its founder (was it really?<fn>Why Twitter is still teeming with bots, Mashable, 16 October 2017</fn>), bots have amounted to a large share of the user base since the beginning.
A research paper published earlier this year by the University of Southern California and Indiana<fn>Online Human-Bot Interactions: Detection, Estimation, and Characterization, Onur Varol, Emilio Ferrara, Clayton A. Davis, Filippo Menczer, Alessandro Flammini, 27 Mars 2017</fn> estimated the share of bot users between 9% (30 million) to 15% (50 million) of the total user base.
We estimate that the percentage of Twitter accounts exhibiting social bot behaviors is between 9% and 15%.
Now, behind this reality there are two kind of bots. On the one hand, we have fake accounts made just to promote a cause or product. On the other hand, there are bots made by creative developers which cover interesting and useful use cases. This is what we’ll focus on.
10 Twitter Bots You Should Definitely Follow in 2017
Telegram bots: host the top bots for gaming
This year has been a busy one for the Telegram Core team too. The last major update, bot API v3.0 (May 2017) <fn>Telegram Core Team – Bot API v3.0 changelog, 18 May 2017</fn> added support for integrated payments, video messages, and multilingual bots.
Further updates followed in August, enabling a better integration of bots within the app with the inline mentions. Until now, users had to chat directly with the bot to trigger it. Now, with inline mentions, they can trigger them from any conversation. No more bots imprisoned by their own chat!
Telegram host vibrant communities from all around the world, with a particularly active Russian community. Games group (such as Werewolf) make up the biggest share of the top active groups<fn>Top Telegram Chats, Combot.org, Updated Daily</fn> while cryptocurrencies discussions are gaining traction.
While Messenger seems to be the preferred host for business bots, Telegram found its uses among other communities. Hence, the future is bright for chatbot-games, as the technical capabilities of bots are continuously improving allowing more diverse and engaging games to be designed.
Top Telegram Bots of 2017: 8 innovating and fun chatbots
Kik bots: a global vision for the bot ecosystem
Even though Kik get less media coverage than Messenger, particularly in Europe and in the US, it is one of the pioneering chatbot platforms.
Kik’s Bot Shop <fn>Kik Is Launching a Shop for Users to Interact With Chatbots From Brands, Adweek, 5 April 2016</fn>, was launched more than one year prior to Facebook’s equivalent (the Discover tab announced at F8).
Kik’s team has a great vision for their product, which they envision as a whole ecosystem. Here’s how Ted Livingstone, CEO of Kik presents the project:
Our ultimate vision is for Kik to be one of hundreds or thousands of digital services for Kin.
The Kik team experimented with integrated payments when they launched the Kik Points three years ago<fn>Kik Points Are Here!, Kik Blog, 11 December 2014</fn>. Now, they are moving forward with a cryptocurrency, a token called Kin. The ICO ended in September, successfully raising $98 million.
[KIN] A decentralized ecosystem of digital services for daily life.
The seamless integration of payments in a messaging app is a must-have for user retention. Kik’s previous experiences on this issue might give the team a welcomed head start to make their vision a reality.
2017 Kik Bot Landscape, a Public Spreadsheet Gathering 90+ Kik Bots
Are top bots getting any better?
To wrap this up, let’s have a look at what we had just a year ago. Last January, we wrote our first top with ten impressive bots back then:
The top bots which made it to the 2017 version (such as Instalocate) dramatically evolved. They gained loads of features and greatly improved their understanding of natural language.
Even so, most of the top bots of 2016 were simply pushed out. New bots tackling innovating use cases and providing a better experience replaced them. That might be the one key takeaway of this retrospective: a chatbot is a forever ongoing project.
A chatbot is an ongoing project. Chatbots without maintenance and upgrade will slowly but surely churn its users out.
Undeniably, top bots which stay there are being constantly monitored and improved by their makers.
Only an objective look at the data can tell if a bot is working as intended.
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