It was Dennis Mortensen – CEO/Founder of x.ai – who made me aware a few years ago of the concept of ‘invisible interfaces’. He talked about applications no longer needing a graphical user interface (GUI), taking “Amy” – x.ai’s virtual personal assistant as a good example (see Fig. 1 below).
Fig. 1 – Amy, x.ai’s virtual assistant – Taken from: http://www.agilenetnyc.com/business/x-ai/
Since then, I’ve been keeping more of an eye out for bots and virtual assistants, which can run on Slack, WeChat, Facebook Messenger or Amazon Echo. Like “Amy” these applications can be driven entirely by complex machine learning algorithms, or can be more ‘smoke and mirrors’ and operated entirely by humans. Let’s just have a look at some relevant examples to illustrate where I think some of these virtual assistants and chatbots are heading.
Example 1 – Nordstrom Chatbot and Operator offering personalised discovery:
US based Nordstrom recently launched its first chatbot for the 2016 holiday season. If you’re already on Facebook Messenger or Kik, Nordstrom’s virtual assistant is only a click away. Users who engage with Nordstrom’s bot will be asked a number of questions about who they’re shopping for. The bot will then respond with bespoke gift suggestions based on the user’s responses.
Fig. 2 – Nordstrom Chatbot – Taken from: https://chatbotsmagazine.com/the-complete-beginner-s-guide-to-chatbots-8280b7b906ca#.l5e2i887r
You can get a similar experience using Operator, which is driven entirely by human experts who’ll provide you with personalised advice on what to buy (see Fig. 3 below).
Fig. 3 – Operator’s experts providing tailored advice to its users – Taken from: https://www.operator.com/
Example 2 – KLM sharing flight information via Facebook Messenger:
KLM, the well known international airline, now enables customer to receive their flight documentation via Facebook Messenger. After booking a flight on KLM’s website, customers can choose to receive their booking confirmation, check-in details, boarding pass and flight status updates via Messenger. It’s built on a Messenger plug-in which customers only have to enable in order to receive ‘personalised’ messages from KLM (see Fig. 4 below).
Fig. 4 – Screenshot of KLM’s Messenger app – Taken from: https://messenger.klm.com/
Example 3 – Telegram using buttons for discovery and shortcuts:
As much as it’s great to have a very simple ‘single purpose’ conversational user interface, there are messenger apps and virtual assistants out there that do offer user functionality that works better with buttons to click. A good example is the Telegram app, which has buttons for specific actions and shortcuts (see Fig. 5 below).
Fig. 5 – Screenshot of the buttons in Telegram’s messenger app – Taken from: http://alistapart.com/article/all-talk-and-no-buttons-the-conversational-ui
Main learning point: I’ll no doubt learn more about conversational user interfaces over the coming months and years, but looking at simple examples like x.ai, Nordstrom’s Chatbot, Operator, Telegram and KLM’s Messenger feels like a very good starting point!
Related links for further learning: