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We live in the age of mobile applications. There are currently several million apps available. This profusion of choices means it can be difficult for users not only to choose which apps to download, but to manage them all — a phenomenon we call “app fatigue.” This situation creates both a need and an opportunity to engage users on a single platform. Today, that platform is increasingly becoming messaging apps.
We think the next era will belong to “the conversational layer” — both text- and voice-driven — that will use chat, messaging, or natural language interfaces to interact with people, brands, services, and bots. This shift is currently evidenced by the massive adoption of messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, Echo, and WhatsApp, which together host more than 60 billion messages daily. According to eMarketer, messaging apps will reach 2 billion people within a few years. WhatsApp users average nearly 200 minutes each week using the service, and many teenagers now spend more time on smartphones sending instant messages than perusing social networks.
Messaging platforms can also alter the way businesses can communicate with their customers. Currently, conversational interfaces within well-known messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger, Slack, Skype, WeChat, Kik, and Telegram allow companies to chat with their users.
Bots as Conversation Partners
While mobile chat platforms are interesting, the arrival of artificial intelligence-powered engines called bots have made them a powerful tool for sense-making and commerce. Bots use machine-learning techniques to understand text and provide better responses to user queries. They are present in the background, and they make sense of the conversations taking place and convert them into actions using apps, such as scheduling a meeting or ordering a pizza. For example, imagine you are chatting with your business partner using Messenger and discussing a visit to a client site in Boston. Using machine-learning algorithms, a bot can recognize that you are talking about travel and initiate a transaction with your favorite travel app, such as Expedia, or offer a link for a ride through Uber. The messaging platform effectively becomes a distribution channel for software and services without leaving the conversation.
1-800-Flowers recently launched such an experience on Facebook Messenger and has since expanded to Amazon Alexa and the IBM Watson platforms.