Chatbots are computer programs that interact with users using conversations as the main interaction paradigm.
What is a conversational interaction paradigm?
It is a mode of interaction with users based on the exchange of messages. One party says something and then waits until the other party responds before progressing.
Let’s look at an example.
A user lands on a page with a chatbot. A dialog box pops open and the chatbot initiates a conversation.
“Hi John, how can I help you?”
The conversation will not continue until the user actually offers a response. For example:
“I am looking for support with a problem I am having”
Great, now the chatbot can reply with something like:
Option 1: “Are you having a problem with Product A”
Option 2: “Are you having a problem with Product B”
and so on.
What chatbots are not
There is some confusion on the web about what constitutes a chatbot.
It stems from confusing the end result (the chatbot) with the technologies that can help you to achieve that result or with the problem that the tool is trying to solve.
Confusing chatbot development technologies with the end result.
The end result of a chatbot is a computer program that can interact with a user through a conversation. The way we get to that result is not relevant to the definition.
Think of a website. In answering the question “What is a website”, what would you say?
Here is what I came up with:
“A collection of text, images and other media, potentially linked, and accessible via a URL on a browser.”
Checking Wikipedia, here is what it has to say about websites:
“A website is a collection of related web pages, including multimedia content, typically identified with a common domain name, and published on at least one web server.”
For the question “what is a chatbot”, however, here is what Wikipedia says:
A chatbots (also known as a talkbot, chatterbot, Bot, IM bot, interactive agent, or Artificial Conversational Entity) is a computer program or an artificial intelligence which conducts a conversation via auditory or textual methods.
So much confusion there. First of all, how is a computer program different from an artificial intelligence? Secondly, why are the only two choices auditory or textual? Chatbots can reply with an image and can allow you to respond by clicking on a set of options, not by typing something.
A lot of the power and benefit of chatbots comes from reducing the context to a very clearly defined set of choices and giving the user the chance to react to that.
Confusing specific problems with chatbots
Similarly to confusing chatbots with the technologies they are build there is also confusion between chatbots and the problems they solve. So to be clear:
- Chatbots are not a way to interact with artificial intelligence (although they could be).
- Chatbots are not a way to sell products (although they could be).
- Chatbots are not a way to provide customer support (although they could be).
Again, just in the same way a website could exist to solve any number of problems chatbots can exist to tackle any number of issues. Chatbots are a way to interact with users. Whether that is useful or not is the real question we need to be asking.
Check out our post on Why are Chatbots Important for our take on that or, even better, get in touch and let us have a conversation about chatbots.