So, what is a bot anyway?

The basics of chatbots and how to find and use some of the exciting new bots out there.

Originally published on Women 2.0.

Folks in Silicon Valley have been talking about bots for years, but most of the time, when I mention to people that we're building a bot for polling, I get blank stares. For most people, of course, this is still a new area. Furthermore, bots on Messenger have only been around for a few months, so we can't all be expected to be experts on the topic already. I think that a little bot primer is in order.

Let's start with some definitions. "Chatbot" is short for "Chat Robot" and it just means a computer program that simulates human conversation. Chatbots can be found on all different messaging apps such as SMS (texting), Slack, Messenger, WeChat, Microsoft Teams and many more. Often there is a human on one end of the conversation talking to the bot which might have Artificial Intelligence (AI) or a database of responses behind it. In some cases bots can chat with each other as well. Occasionally a bot with AI is supplemented by a human who is reviewing the bot's responses and editing them as needed. This is especially important while the technology is still young, because bots can really misbehave sometimes.

First we had websites. Then we had apps. What--now we need bots too?

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It's true that a lot of the things you do over a website or an app can now be done using a bot. A great example is the 1-800-Flowers bot. Instead of downloading an app and setting it up, you can now chat with the bot on Messenger and order flowers instantly. Why do we love bots? They are super fast to use and require no set up, downloads, logins, or updates. Bots also feel fun and friendly to use, because they mimic the experience of chatting with a friend.

How do you use a Messenger Bot?

Generally, you start by opening up the Messenger app on your phone. If you don't have Messenger, you can download it for free from the app store.

Pro Tip: Make sure your version of Messenger is up to date because there have been lots of changes recently that affect how the bots work.

  1. Search for the bot by name, as if you were searching for the name of a friend in Messenger.
  2. You can also use links, buttons or Messenger codes (similar to QR codes or Snapchat codes) to find a bot.
  3. Click "get started" once you find the bot.
  4. Start interacting with the bot. Most of them will guide you through the next steps.
  5. Most bots have a help or support area where you can get in touch with a human if you're having issues.
  6. Many bots now have a little hamburger menu in the text area that you can use to navigate the bot.

How do you find out what bots are out there? 

Discoverability of bots has been a big topic of late in the chatbot world. There is not yet one bot store that contains all of the bots in existence. Most of them are on different platforms and there are different ways to access them depending on the platform. Botlist is a good resource for browsing through bots that are available on multiple different messaging apps.

Have fun exploring the world of bots and keep us posted on what you discover!