App review: Toutiao

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of www.toutiao.com/ homepage 

When I first heard about Toutiaou I thought it might be just another news app, this coming one from China. I learned, however, very quickly that Toutiaou is much more than just a news app; at the time of writing, Toutiao has more than 700 million users in total, with ore than 78 million users reading over 1.3 billion articles on a daily basis.

Toutiao, known officially as Jinri Toutiao, which means “Today’s Headlines”, has a large part of its rapid rise to its ability to provide its users with a highly personalised news feed. Toutiao is a mobile platform that use machine learning algorithms to recommend content to its users, based on previous content accessed by users and their interaction with the content (see Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 – Screenshot of Toutiao iOS app

I identified a number of elements that contribute to Toutiao’s success:

  1. AI and machine learning – Toutiao’s flagship value proposition to its users, having its own dedicated AI Lab in order to constantly further the development of the AI technology that underpins its platform. Toutiao’s algorithms learn from the types of content its users interact with and the way(s) in which they interact with this content. Given that Toutiao users spend on average 76 minutes per day on the app, there’s a wealth of data for Toutiao’s algorithms to learn form and to base personalisations on.
  2. Variety of content types to choose from – Toutiao enables its users to upload short videos, and Toutiao’s algorithms of will recommend selected videos to appropriate users (see Fig. 3). Last year, Ivideos on Toutiao were played 1.5 billion times per day, making Toutiao China’s largest short video platform. Users can also upload pictures, similar to Instagram or Facebook, users can share their pictures, with other users being abel to like or comment on this content (see Fig. 4).
  3. Third party integrations – Toutiao has got strategic partnerships in place with the likes of WeChat, a highly popular messaging app (see Fig. 5), and jd.com, a local online marketplace. It’s easy to see how Toutiao is following an approach whereby they’re inserting their news feed into a user’s broader ecosystem.

Main learning point: I was amazed by the scale at which Toutiao operate and the levels at which its users interact with the app. We often talk about the likes of Netflix and Spotify when it comes to personalised recommendations, but with the amount of data that Toutiao gathers, I can they can create a highly tailored content experience for their users.

Fig. 3 – Screenshot of video section on Toutiao iOS app 

Fig. 4 – Screenshot of user generated content feed on Toutiao iOS app

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Fig. 5 – Screenshot of Toutiao and WeChat integration on Toutiao iOS app

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://www.toutiao.com/
  2. https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/toutiao#/entity
  3. http://technode.com/2017/06/05/podcast-analyse-asia-187-toutiao-with-matthew-brennan/
  4. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603351/the-insanely-popular-chinese-news-app-that-youve-never-heard-of/
  5. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ywang/2017/05/26/jinri-toutiao-how-chinas-11-billion-news-aggregator-is-no-fake/#24d401d64d8a
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toutiao
  7. http://lab.toutiao.com/
  8. https://www.liftigniter.com/toutiao-making-headlines-machine-learning/
  9. https://techcrunch.com/2017/02/01/chinese-news-reading-app-toutiao-acquires-flipagram/
  10. https://lotusruan.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/cant-beat-giant-companies-on-wechatweibo-try-toutiao/
  11. https://www.chinainternetwatch.com/tag/toutiao/

 

 

 

App review: Plum

When I reviewed Cleo a few weeks ago, I also came across Plum. Plum describes itself as “your personal savings” assistant and lives in Facebook Messenger.

How did Plum come to my attention?  I came across Plum whilst reviewing Cleo, another virtual savings assistant. I then spoke to Victor Trokoudes, co-founder and CEO of Plum, who gave me a first introduction to Plum.

My quick summary of Plum (before using it) – I expect Plum to not only monitor my spending and saving habits, but to also do my saving for me and transfer savings directly to a savings account of my choosing.

How does Plum explain itself in the first minute? – From the headline to smaller print on the landing screen, it’s apparent that Plum is all about saving, helping me to save. Plum “monitors your daily spending and automagically sets money aside for you.”

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Getting started, what’s the process like?  After I’ve clicked on the “Sign up for free” button, I’m taken to Facebook Messenger where I see a landing page that explains about Plum; “I’m a robot. I was built to help you save money so you don’t have to worry about it.”

At this stage, I’m not entirely sure about how exactly Plum will help me to save money, but I decide to click on the “Get Started” button to find out.

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On the next screen, I’m presented with the choice between signing up and learning how Plum works. I decide to do the latter and click on “How it works”.

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And I’m pleased that I asked the Plum bot to explain how it all works, because I like the response that I get in return:

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I now feel more confident about how Plum works and how it can help me with saving money, so I decide to click on “Sign up”. After entering my email address, the Plum bot asks me for some more information to complete my setup. After clicking on the “Complete setup” button, I’m taken to separate page where I can enter my personal details.

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After I’ve entered my personal details, the next step is for me to link my bank account to Plum. I like how Plum is keeping me posted on progress by striking through the previous two steps of the onboarding process. There’s copy there to assure me that my bank login details will be treated securely by Plum; making it clear that Plum “will never, ever store it (my bank login, MA) on our system.”

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Did Plum deliver on my expectations? – Once I’ve managed to sync my bank account info, and have completed my Plum set up, the app starts helping me to save money. For me, Plum’s biggest draw is that I can add money to my Plum savings. Plum tells me how much of my cash is still available for withdrawal, and prompts to me decide on how much money I’d like to set aside.
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Similar to the standard account and transaction info that your traditional bank offers, Plum provides a neat overview of my monthly and total savings, and I can see my most recent transactions at a single glance. Ultimately, I feel I can only truly answer the question about Plum delivering on my expectations once why I’ve achieved a specific savings goal. In the meantime, I feel that Plum does offer a pretty smooth onboarding journey and a clear path to actually saving money. If you’re struggling to save or understanding how much you can save in the first place, definitely worth checking out Plum and start setting money aside!

App review: Cleo

I wrote about virtual assistants a few weeks ago, which made me realise that I hadn’t yet explored Cleo in more detail. Cleo is a virtual assistant that I believe can help me save money. However, my knowledge of Cleo ends there, so let’s have a closer look at Cleo and its onboarding process:

  1. How did Cleo come to my attention? – I came across Cleo a few months ago as I was looking at so-called ‘robo advisers’ like Betterment and Nutmeg.
  2. My quick summary of Cleo (before using it)? – When you search for Cleo, Google will tell you that it’s an “Intelligent assistant that helps you save money”. I therefore expect a virtual assistant that will give me a better view of my expenses and gives me tips on how to spend less. I expect an app that’s highly personalised, aiming to making saving fun. I guess a bit similar to Qapital, an app that I reviewed a few months ago.
  3. How does Cleo explain itself in the first minute? – I like how how the homepage of https://meetcleo.com/ talks about Cleo being “The simplest way to manage your money” (see Fig. 1 below). The page also mentions “bank level security” although I must admit that I’m not entirely sure what that means in the context of Cleo.
  4. Getting started, what’s the process like (1)? – Cleo’s onboarding process feels very intuitive and easy, particularly the part where Cleo syncs with my bank account (see Fig. 3 below). The messaging about how Cleo will treat my current account data instills trust and is clear, even to the point where I get a text from Cleo to say that banks are a bit slow when it comes to synching (see Fig. 8 below). However, when I’m asked to set my monthly income, I’m not sure what purpose this will serve and how I’ll benefit from sharing this data with Cleo (see Fig. 4 below).
  5. Getting started, what’s the process like (2)? – The simplicity of the onboarding process is reinforced by the text messages that I’m getting from Cleo on my mobile whilst onboarding on my laptop (see Fig. 8 below).
  6. Did Cleo deliver on my expectations (1) – After completing my onboarding with Cleo, I get a pretty comprehensive overview of my bills and spending (see Fig. 7 below). Perhaps I hadn’t fully set my own expectations when signing up with Cleo, but I’m left with a faint feeling of disappointment, expecting to receive more insights around my spending patterns or be able to ask Cleo specific questions about my balance. For example, when I ask Cleo about how to best increase my balance, she refers me to the generic balance call to action which she’d shared with me 3 seconds prior in the same exchange on Facebook Messenger (see Fig. 10 below).
  7. Did Cleo deliver on my expectations (2) – Some of the machine learning parts that underpin Cleo feel like they’re working pretty well, and getting started with Cleo felt very seamless and self-explanatory. I’m, however, keen to see how Cleo will develop further over the coming months, in becoming truly ‘intelligent’ about my spending habits and ways for me to save money.

 

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Fig. 1 – Screenshot of the homepage of https://meetcleo.com/

 

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Fig. 2 – Screenshot of the first step of the Cleo sign-up flow

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Fig. 3 – Screenshot of the second step of the Cleo sign-up flow

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Fig. 4 – Syncing a bank account with Cleo

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Fig. 5 – Screenshot of setting a monthly income in Cleo

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Fig. 6 – Screenshots of the workflow around adding bills

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Fig. 7 – Screenshot of the ‘outputs’ of the info entered into Cleo

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Fig. 8 – Text updates from Cleo throughout the onboarding process

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Fig. 9 – Chat message from Barney, CEO and Co-Founder of Cleo

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Fig. 10 – Chatting with Cleo through Facebook Messenger

Some good conversational UI examples to learn from

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).

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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).

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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:

  1. http://alistapart.com/article/all-talk-and-no-buttons-the-conversational-ui
  2. https://uxdesign.cc/10-links-to-get-started-with-conversational-ui-and-chatbots-3c0920ef4723#.yqpfdz5re
  3. https://chatbotsmagazine.com/the-complete-beginner-s-guide-to-chatbots-8280b7b906ca#.l5e2i887r
  4. http://www.geekwire.com/2016/new-nordstrom-mobile-chat-bot-ready-help-shoppers-find-perfect-holiday-gift/
  5. https://www.techinasia.com/talk/complete-beginners-guide-chatbots
  6. https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2016/07/conversational-interfaces-where-are-we-today-where-are-we-heading/
  7. http://www.theverge.com/2016/3/30/11331168/klm-facebook-messenger-boarding-pass-chat-integration
  8. https://messenger.klm.com/
  9. https://www.operator.com/