Chatbots! After floating around the edges of the useful web for a few years now, the right underlying technology is finally making it plausible for companies and organisations to build and run their own online bots. That’s cool, and it’s brought to mind a lesson that I first learned in 2009, when we launched an experimental (now dead) chatbot at NAB.
For writers, that lesson is:
Let your bot be a bot. Make it sound like a bot, let it behave like a bot and, most of all, tell people it’s a bot.
Your bot is here to help people learn stuff and complete tasks. You’re not here to beat the Turing Test.
Over-humanised bots are just another version of skeuomorphism gone bad.
We didn’t get this right in 2009. We used a photo of a woman in a headset, I wrote in as chatty a voice as I could, and although we used the terms like “online assistant” (too vague) and later “virtual assistant”, we weren’t clear enough about who or what this thing actually was.