Best Bots: Liveblog from South By Southwest

Presenters Omar Siddiqui of Kiwi and Laura Newton of Kik

I have a front-row seat at a session titled “Best Bot Practices” here at South By Southwest Interactive. The room is nearly full, maybe 500 people here to learn how to create bots that live up to the hype. I am new to knowing what a bot is. My take is they are like texting with Alexa instead of talking to her in a can. The answers come back in text not voice.

The presenters for this session are Laura Newton, a product manager at Kik, a chat bot with 300 million registered users, and Omar Siddiqui, CEO of Kiwi, creators of Sequel, a bot platform for creating bots.

If you don’t see the liveblog entries, try clicking on the title of this post. Here goes…


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Comments 15

  1. Len Edgerly wrote:

    We are having uncharacteristic technical difficulties here in Salon D at the Marriott. Ear-piercing feedback sent many fingers into many ears in the audience. We are seven minutes late starting. The tech crew look nervous at the side table. The presenters are eager to go.

    Posted 11 Mar 2017 at 10:38 am
  2. Len Edgerly wrote:

    People don’t download apps anymore, Omar says. Teens are spending their time on messaging apps more than big 4 social media apps.

    Posted 11 Mar 2017 at 10:41 am
  3. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Laura: bots are gaming, entertainment and customer service.

    Omar: messaging started in Asia with WeChat which has more than half a billion daily users. It’s where you run your life.

    Laura: Bots let you order a pizza on Twitter. They are conquering across categories. Why bltrs? Don’t have to download a new app. No new User interface. deeper connections.

    Posted 11 Mar 2017 at 10:43 am
  4. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Omar: It’s the wild west. The narrative has been all over the place. Best Practices, an emergent view. Important lessons:

    Build for Conversations. You are interacting with user in an intimate space for friends and family. Bot has to match the conversations already under way.

    Ex: Romance Now. A new kind of storytelling. Users participate in conversation, being in the story, or they can lurk. Offer a storytelling experience that is tailored to conversational format.

    Laura: Stats Bot. supplements team discussions I want this stat. Bot delivers it, then can discuss with team. It knows it is in conversation with the team.

    Posted 11 Mar 2017 at 10:47 am
  5. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Next best practice: Start Simple (Laura). Don’t try to do everything. Do one thing well and you will get users. Creativity requires constraint.

    Tic Tac Toe bot with attitude. You would never download an app for this. In Kik you mention it and you can play with the bot or a friend. Has more than a million users. Can do on a table at a restaurant. Creative flair: If you’re losing it will make fun of you.

    Omar: you can be creative and simple. Ex: ICON8 self expression. Makes your selfie like a painting. It’s focused. Does one job well, to make you look interesting. The format changes every day, the style of painting. Millions of users.

    Posted 11 Mar 2017 at 10:51 am
  6. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Best practice 3: Know Your Audience (Omar). Teens, team members. The bot has to have a target so you can optimize for it. Platform on which it is delivered. On Kik would have different personality than on Facebook Messenger.

    Ex: J-14 Trivia Bot. teen magazine on pop culture. Trivia bot allows their audience to show off what they know about pop culture. The writing, graphics, personality of bot speaks to teenage girls.

    Laura: CNN bot is one of best this year. On Kik an Messenger. Best way to get news you want on Messenger, an older demographic. Utility. On Kik its different, more visual, sticker pack, different ways to interact with news for 13-18 year olds. Fascinating. Before the election they sent item about electoral reform works. Yes I understand, no I don’t- options to pace your way through. Done some with endangered species, travel ban.

    Posted 11 Mar 2017 at 10:55 am
  7. Len Edgerly wrote:

    best practice 4: be social.
    Ex: roll: enhancing IRL experiences. Like a Magic 8 Ball question. Bot chooses someone in the group. Who’s buying lunch? Integrates users in fun way.

    Omar: ex: Murder Mystery: Role Play. Being the conversation. Social requires a different mindset. Let’s augment the conversation that is going on. If bot enhances fun we’re having, that’s stickier than adding another artificial character in your life. Bot serves as dungeon master for murder mystery.It assigns roles to people in conversation. One of most successful bots on Kik in past 6 months.

    Laura: These two bots had more than a million users in the first month.

    Posted 11 Mar 2017 at 10:59 am
  8. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Omar: Bots that enhance users self-image will be popular.

    Laura: Where are we going from here?

    An Ecosystem Will Emerge. One or several bots? Not just one. Multiple bots targeted, simple. You don’t have just one friend or one bot.
    WeChat is an ecosystem. You can call a cab, do your banking, powering much of China.

    GUIs across platforms. AI v graphic interface. When use AI and when use GUI. Nice place for both.

    Omar: Bots will become multi-media. We think o them in messaging, asynchronous text. With Alexa and Home you see effective voice bots.Natural language needs to improve, but it’s a new medium. Part of overall trend–get stuff done with enhanced conversations. Voice is emerging. So will video and Virtual Reality. Will interact more and more in real time.

    Posted 11 Mar 2017 at 11:05 am
  9. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Omar: Start Exploring! It’s emerging. Over next five years we will have new way to deliver experiences to consumers.

    Posted 11 Mar 2017 at 11:06 am
  10. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Omar: Have worked with Penguin on madlibs spot. Series of books where you replace phrases. Like a party game. Not aware of any book related ones. Delivery of 20k word experiences, an experience. Amazing hyper engagement for discrete period of time. Not for long time. Detective Case Bot: law and order. you are the absent partner investigating a crime. You advise the detective. Released in episodes of 3 to 6 day experience. We see 200 to 300 messages a day exchanged. But people want to be done.

    Laura: Fan fiction being done on bots. People come from movies and TV shows. We are trying episodes. You spend one hour each week maybe.

    Omar: Thought it was a chat buddy. Have a virtual one. Instead, it’s more like someone drops a pebble, there is a flurry of activity, then quiet. Intense and then they’re done.

    Posted 11 Mar 2017 at 11:11 am
  11. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Laura: You can start free. Have to meet guidelines to start a bot. Ads in the future. Payments maybe. No price to running a bot.

    Omar: You can use Sequel without charge. We are supporting the emergence of this medium. Monetization is on the horizon, a challenge. Discovery is a challenge. Kik has a bot shop where you can get seen. Messenger has discovery mechanisms.

    Laura: It’s an exploration time. Kick-ass user experience are our focus. We don’t want to add hurdles to entry. A very flexible time.

    Posted 11 Mar 2017 at 11:14 am
  12. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Laura: Quartz has a bot interface with its app. Every morning you get five minutes of news. Creates habit to check news with them. Not an infinite amount of news. This is important to you based on your preferences.

    Omar: It was assumed headlines and articles could be delivered in messaging box like email. I don’t think that’s enough value to develop a new habit for news. Reason why CNN a good example they have developed experience that can only be delivered in a conversation, something different than other ways of getting CNN news. Quartz creates value because of new format. Only using bots as new distribution channel is unlikely to work, without tailoring to the new medium.

    Posted 11 Mar 2017 at 11:17 am
  13. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Omar: A mindfulness bot had great metrics. Created a mindfulness practice, launched through Twitter. Got shared to qualified users who were looking for something specific from the bot. Bot says take three deep breaths. It was so natural. Finding a natural audience to tap into helps. Polish with a small group of users.

    Laura: If you are clear on value to user and it’s simple that’s the best way to get promoted for viral growth. Your users become your advertisers.

    Omar: You have to design for sharing. Not hard sell. Provide content that people will want to share with friends. Give them one-click experience to share it. Kik lets you build for sharing.

    Posted 11 Mar 2017 at 11:21 am
  14. Len Edgerly wrote:

    My take: This was a terrific introduction to bots, a classic example of why I come to SXSW each year with such expectation. You get to learn about what’s coming from practitioners, not pundits. These two are actually making bots happen, learning what works and what doesn’t. Their presentation was well-organized, hype-free, smart as can be.

    Posted 11 Mar 2017 at 11:23 am
  15. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Laura: over time bots will become similar to the web, with portability of bots.
    Omar: but content needs to be tailored to different platforms.

    Posted 11 Mar 2017 at 11:25 am