Worthwhile – Chat Bot edition

“Chatbots chatbots everywhere, nor any bots to chat with.”

This month’s #Worthwhile is dedicated entirely to chatbots. Touted by many as the next frontier of digital interaction, this post will attempt to supply you with everything you need to decide for yourself.

Exactly a year ago today, I wrote a Worthwhile links that included a bit at the end referring to a post by Chris Messina (the inventor of the hashtag) about conversational commerce – conducting your online shopping through chat-style, stream-based interfaces such as sms, or other chat type interfaces like Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger etc – platforms that we’re all so accustomed to using on a daily basis. The chat might be powered by a human on the other end or, and increasingly more likely, an artificially intelligently trained machine (a.k.a a bot) that understands how to respond to the varying types of inputs users are likely to provide.

Re/code has a nice primer on bots

What is a bot?

A bot is software that is designed to automate the kinds of tasks you would usually do on your own, like making a dinner reservation, adding an appointment to your calendar or fetching and displaying information. The increasingly common form of bots, chatbots, simulate conversation. They often live inside messaging apps — or are at least designed to look that way — and it should feel like you’re chatting back and forth as you would with a human.

Now, bots aren’t exactly new, they’ve been around in one form or another for years such as ELIZA built in 1966, or even Microsoft’s most friendly annoying Office Assistant Clippy that lived between ’97 and 2003.

What makes today’s bots different from the ones built decades ago? What’s changed?

Two computing paradigms have hit a level of maturity and are starting to collide:

  1. The massive advancement of artificial intelligence and natural language processing required to understand the fine nuances of human inputs means bots can deliver more value back to the user.
  2. The massive popularity of chat platforms such as SMS (all phones), WhatsApp (1bn+ active users), Facebook Messenger (±900m), WeChat (±639m) and Line (±215m).

The practical applications are vast – a customer service bot could train itself by consuming the millions of customer service logs you have stored in your company’s basement (Telkom and MTN bots would be so super smart), an automated commerce bot that could take an order for pizza via Facebook messenger or sms, a financial advisor bot that can advise you based on a perfect understanding of your entire financial history and habits as well as a vast understanding of market trends, what about a doctor bot that’s consumed all the world’s medical research and can read all your health data tracked by your iPhone and digitised health records – no waiting rooms or making appointments.

I think we’re still a way from actually using a bot that makes our lives better, but with the tools now available to build your own bot with a fairly low need for programming knowledge we will undoubtedly start seeing interesting use cases bubbling up from tinkerers and makers (which also happens to be something of a megatrend).

Drop me a line if you want to chat bots :)

Scott (@thescott)

Herewith, the list of links…


Facebook Messenger launches bot integration and more. – Facebook

We’re excited to introduce bots for the Messenger Platform. Bots can provide anything from automated subscription content like weather and traffic updates, to customized communications like receipts, shipping notifications, and live automated messages all by interacting directly with the people who want to get them.

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And you thought SMS was just for spamming your database? Using SMS as a retail commerce channel These Startups Are Selling Vinyl Records, Graphic Novels, and Indian Food Via Text Message – Bloomberg

Back in the day, vinyl geeks schlepped to a record store or flea market and spent hours going through bins of dusty albums. ReplyYes is a whole lot easier.

The Seattle startup sends a daily text message suggesting a vinyl recommendation determined by an algorithm. You want? Reply yes. In about six days the album arrives in the mail. That’s it.

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More high street brands testing the waters – H&M, Sephora chatbots gain visibility in Kik’s new marketplace

H&M, Sephora and Weather Channel are among a number of brands now appearing in messaging application Kik’s new Bot Shop marketplace, potentially driving discovery and use as chatbots gain steam.

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Microsoft are betting big in this space too.. I’m sure we’ll see their AI platform Cortana finding its way into many non-MS platforms too.. Microsoft brings Skype bots to Mac and the Web

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#Quirk2017 – The Next Phase Of UX: Designing Chatbot Personalities

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How to roll your own bot. #weekendproject! – Five Steps To Build Your Own Random Non-Sequitur Twitter Bot

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The type of tool that could turn a tinkerer into the next Zuckerberg – Cheap Bots Done Quick

This site will help you make a Twitterbot! They’re easy to make and free to run

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We put Microsoft’s new teen chatbot to the test — and the results were hilarious

When it comes to language, teenspeak is a thing unto itself.

From acronyms, to abbreviations, to liberal use of the word literally, kids these days on the internet have a very specific way of speaking. On Wednesday, Microsoft launched a new artificial intelligence chatbot, named Tay, created to conduct research on conversational understanding of young people online.

 

Thanks for reading.

Why Should I Consider A Career in UX?

Text: David Hattingh

People dig it

Before you read any further, let’s get right to it: Yes, it is absolutely worth considering a career in User Experience (UX)!

UX refers to the overall experience that an individual has when using a particular product, system or service. When considering things from a UX perspective, it is important to ask specific questions like: does the experience come naturally, is it intuitive, and most importantly, is it easy to use? This information is useful when designing websites, apps, and pretty much any piece of technology that will be used regularly. The main purpose of UX is to design with the end-user (consumer) in mind and to ensure that using the product is as easy and enjoyable as possible.

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In 2014, the Nielsen Norman Group conducted a research study that asked UX professionals how they experienced their field of work. After evaluating their level of job fulfilment, the respondents scored it a 5.4 on a scale of 1 – 7. Of the total number of respondents surveyed, 17% gave a score of 7 out of 7, while only 1% gave a 1 out of 7 – a clear indication that the majority of UX professionals feel inspired and fulfilled in their jobs. The survey also indicated that while most respondents experience job satisfaction, the primary driver of dissatisfaction was that they felt they weren’t getting enough varied UX experience on a regular basis.

What should I expect?

From wireframing and prototyping, to usability testing and creating personas, there are various tasks that you could expect to do as a UX professional. Currently, the most widely recognised roles in the field include user journey research, interaction design, and information architecture (IA), with experts working across industries including IT, financial services, marketing, education, and healthcare.

Do I need a specific background?

One of the respondents in the Nielsen Norman study outlined it very eloquently:  “If you are a ‘lifelong learner’, in other words, if you are paying attention, you will be able to take previous experiences and apply lessons learned from them to your new situation. That is more important to me than specific skills you might learn in school.”

A defining characteristic of the UX field is that it favours curiosity over a defined learning path. While no specific qualification will guarantee a successful UX career, a number of key subjects will see you well on your way. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  1. Web Design
  2. Psychology
  3. Communication
  4. Writing
  5. Programming
  6. Design
  7. Research Methodologies
  8. English
  9. Computer Science
  10. Library Science

If you’re just starting out, a UX course such as this one offered by Red & Yellow is a great way to get a foot in the door.

Getting started

“How do I get started?” you ask. A mixture of theory and practice and a willingness to learn. Reading books, blogs, and articles on UX design, IA, psychology, tech and design trends, and whatever else you can get your hands on. It is important to fill your mind with as much knowledge on topics that influence the realm of UX as you can. Consider taking short courses and if you’re a newbie:

  • Practice design;
  • Get an internship and;
  • Find a mentor.

Apply for a job that exposes you to a variety of disciplines within the field and, if possible, start your career at a company that recognises the value of usability, management support, and has budget. As soon as you’re confident in your UX skills, you can start specialising in certain areas within the field.

If, however, you’re already employed, remember that UX professionals come from all walks of life. You can gradually work towards a position as UX specialist by simply rolling up your proverbial sleeves and doing the following:

  • Run a small user test of a current project with a handful of participants;
  • Redesign a particularly horrendous page of a website so that you can’t help but gain a strong ROI from higher conversion rates due to the better design, and;
  • Do a mini-IA project to structure a small corner of your site in a more useful manner.

Doing  small projects will give you the experience you need to take on bigger projects and will show management that they can benefit from redefining your role to specialise in UX. While starting a new field of work can be challenging, it can also be greatly rewarding.

Nielsen Norman Group: User Experience Careers, Susan Farrell and Jakob Nielsen, 2013

The Digital Transformation of Retail Banking

Text: Michelle Marais

Beginning in the 80s, The Digital Revolution has undoubtedly had an impact on all industries, but it’s only in the last decade that we’ve seen a transformation in retail banking. Consumers’ requirements have changed drastically and anytime, anywhere banking has become more than a nice-to-have, it’s become essential. Today, retail banks are looking to innovative User Experience (UX) solutions to meet the expectations of their tech-savvy consumers.

Back from a recent trip to Kenya, we caught up with Quirk’s Head of UX Scott Gray, to discuss how the African financial landscape differs from that of the rest of the world, how data can be used to personalise banking experiences and which UX trends we should look out for this year.

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In the last decade, the biggest trend in the retail banking industry has been the shift from physical to digital. However, the local financial services sector still has a large physical footprint. Do you think banks will lose customers due to their hesitancy to go digital?

I don’t think losing customers is a concern just yet as there isn’t much in the way of alternatives for customers. Generally speaking, I think retail banks are waking up to the importance of a more “robust” digital presence. All the major banks have mobile apps that do a fairly good job of providing customers with the ability to perform many of the basic activities. I think there are still a number of regulatory requirements that require a customer to be physically present, especially when it comes to proof of identity and signing something.

The way I like to look at the digital advances in banking is through a plumbing analogy. I view the customer touchpoints (branch, app, website, call centre etc.) as taps and basins. The underlying technology that enables these end points are the pipes and plumbing concealed behind the walls. One bank may have far sexier user interfaces than the others, but these are just fittings that can be upgraded. The underlying plumbing of most banks is very much the same as they’ve always been. This is where true transformative opportunity lies, but ripping out the pipes and “changing them up” would be an enormous cost, effort and risk.

How can data be used to personalise experiences for consumers?

This is a pretty big question, but in a nutshell, data is the fuel that enables the personalisation engine. In the early days, a bank manager would know all his customers by name, but as things have scaled up and relationships between bank and customer have become increasingly digital, the ability to recreate that personalised service can only be provided by data. The trick, however, is not how much data banks have (a lot!), but rather what they do with it that will differentiate one bank from the next. I think most banks are only starting to work out what this might mean.

You recently went to Kenya with the aim of familiarising yourself with ICEA Lion, an insurance company. How does Africa’s financial landscape differ from that of Asia or the Americas and what do its consumers require in terms of UX?

In many ways, the African financial landscape is right up there in terms of innovative products and services designed to service the needs of the vast array of customers. The African economy isn’t a mobile-first one, but rather a mobile-only. Herein lies the largest challenge – access to the internet or the lack thereof. The ability for customers to access their money through a digital interface is massively impacted by the lack of access to internet and smartphones.

That said, more mature platforms such as SMS have enabled a number of incredibly innovative services that distribute financial related information to those that need it such as rural farmers being connected with produce prices. Enabling them to form cooperatives that give them better purchasing and selling power.

How will you use these insights to ensure a positive user experience for their consumers?

  1. Simplicity is key. For a data-poor, attention scarce, and highly aspirational market the ability to sell something digitally relies on being able to communicate the benefits of a product in just a few lines of text.
  2. Design for mobile-first then think desktop. The mobile first design approach is an exercise in content and feature prioritisation, not only building for mobile users.
  3. Find ways to enable and educate. The insurance market is still in its early stages which means businesses such as ICEA LION must find ways to contextualise their products within the lives of the customers they seek, continually showing how and why their products and services will benefit them.

What are the biggest UX trends for 2016?

  1. Keep it lean. Start small, measure, re-evaluate, build, measure, learn, build measure, learn (you get the picture). Building iteratively using approaches such as “Lean” enables businesses to test and validate concepts throughout the product’s lifecycle. This approach is more likely to end up delivering something customers actually want.
  2. Android is it. The fact that smartphones are getting cheaper is undisputed. The influx of cheap (and cheaper) Asian handsets into the African continent means the Android platform will become a massively important ecosystem for developers and businesses. Understanding the operating system’s paradigm and where Google plans to take it is very important.
  3. Optimise for search. Linked to point 2, Android is built around discovery, bringing what a user might be looking for to the user’s attention as soon as possible before she may even know there’s a need. Businesses that optimise themselves for discovery on Google’s platforms will naturally be more likely to have a higher chance of being discovered.
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