Facebook F8: Messenger bots' first impressions point to a slow user experience

Well, it is too early to comment on Facebook bots anyway since the platform is yet to go mainstream. But one thing that is common with most of the reports online is that the latency of bot responses is still quite high.

Facebook announced Messenger chatbots at its F8 Developer Conference. These chatbots have an AI-driven interface that responds to your queries. Soon, when you interact with businesses, it will most likely be a bot at the other end who will be answering your queries – something like an AI-driven virtual assistant.

But first impressions regarding the Messenger chatbots are not very positive. Well, it is too early to comment anyway since the platform is yet to go mainstream. But one thing that is common with most of the reports online is that the latency of bot responses is quite high.

Speaking about the WSJ bot for instance, The Verge writer says, "I sent a message to the WSJ bot and heard back about four minutes later. Once you start talking with the bot, it gets speedier. But a majority of your interactions will involve asking for specific pieces of information and then waiting to see if it's what you wanted."

The article goes on to say that if you can get what you are looking for by actually just typing out the relevant terms in Google, a bot with delayed responses just defeats the purpose. Not to mention the initial back and forth between you and the bot, till the bot gets the right answer. Natural language processing will need to be inherent with the AI backing a particular bot, as no one would want to just type in the correct keywords to get a response. Not just that, bots will also have understand contextual information from a chat. It is surely an uphill task.

According to The Next Web, the bots are also not very intuitive with their responses. "Even when I ask which bots I can use for Messenger, it doesn’t quite know what to do. Just saying ‘bots’ did the trick, but I’m not the only one, though. Several others are noting that chatting with bots is downright annoying, confusing or — well, shitty," said TNW.

Perhaps partner with GV investment firm and former journalist MG Siegler puts it best, when he says, "To be honest, I’m a little worried about the bot hype overtaking the bot reality, already. Yes, the high level promise of what bots can offer is great. But this isn’t going to happen overnight. And it’s going to take a lot of experimentation and likely bot failure before we get there."

Going back a couple of weeks, Microsoft had released its bots framework and one of the biggest announcements was around Skype. The company had put forth a demo explaining how Skype users can chat with Cortana, which in turn gets things done via third-party chatbots. Microsoft has smartly taken the natural language processing goodness of Skype and the intelligence of Cortana to make the Cortana Intelligence Suite. It has also made the Bot Framework for developers to develop their own bots.

In the demo shown on stage the interaction between the user's Skype account with the user's Cortana bot and the bot of the pizza delivery service was quite smooth and just required the user interaction in some steps. That kind of seamless interactions between bots will require some time. Sure businesses opening up their databases for bot-based interaction should ideally reduce the overall time spent getting the information. 'Ideally' being the key word.

Facebook has launched Messenger Bots for some partners including HP shopping app called Spring and CNN. The HP tool lets you print a photo by sending it to the company's printing bot on Messenger. The CNN bot lets you ask CNN about the latest news which the bot will present to you, instead of you actually logging on the site and hunting for it. According to CNN head of social media, CNN bot's responses will be conversational rather than be links pointing to stories on its websites.

The prospect of messaging companies or publishers directly from the Messenger app sure does sound tempting. It will all boil down to optimisation and reducing latency when interacting with bots. If the Messenger bots crack that, then there is no reason for it to be overlooked by the masses.

When that will happen? Only time will tell. In the meantime here's why we think chatbots have the potential to take away the humanness from our conversations.

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