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New Report Examines Chatbot Development

Visionmobile Ltd. has published a new report examining chatbot development, one of the hottest new-age topics in the industry.

"Chatbots and conversational UI are among the most hyped technologies of 2016," Visionmobile said in a blog post published Tuesday.

Chatbot development is hot among programmers because it involves leveraging the latest in exciting cutting-edge technology such as artificial intelligence and natural language processing.

"While many challenges remain, chatbots promise to create a new channel for reaching mobile users alongside mobile apps," Visionmobile said in the post teasing its new $3,900 Chatbot Developer Landscape 2016 report. "That's why there is no shortage of entrepreneurs and developers taking their shots at 'figuring it out' with chatbots."

The chatbot-focused report is derived from the company's extensive State of the Developer Nation Q3, 2016 report (free upon providing registration info) published last month.

Ironically, that report doused some of the hype around chatbot development.

"The messaging bot hype has been at fever pitch in recent months, and yet there's relatively little developer activity so far," said the report based on a poll of more than 16,500 developers.

"The huge interest in AR, VR and machine learning, when compared to the relatively tiny activity levels in messaging bots, is perhaps in recognition of their significance," Visionmobile continued.

Nevertheless, the company said its new for-pay report seeks to answer question such as what the chatbot landscape looks like, how popular is the idea of chatbots with developers, how mature is the chatbot developer ecosystem, which developers are more attracted to the chatbot promise and which messaging platforms are popular with chatbot developers.

"Early excitement about chatbots has given way to the realization that many challenges remain in both technology and understanding of what users are looking for when chatting with computers," Visionmobile said in this week's blog post. "In the words of Fred Wilson, a prominent venture capitalist who invested in Kik, a popular messaging platform:

New user behaviors take time to develop and sometimes require a breakthrough app to get things started. That's where we are with chatbots. The hype phase is over and we are now into the figuring it out phase. That's usually when interesting stuff starts to happen.

We earlier reported that much of that interesting stuff is being spearheaded by companies such as Microsoft and Facebook, and Visionmobile acknowledged those leaders.

"The data shows that the efforts of Facebook, Microsoft and Slack to promote chatbot development achieved early results," the company said. "An absolute majority of developers worldwide are aware of the opportunities in chatbots. At the same time, the chatbot ecosystem is still in its early stages and lots of work remains to attract masses of developers to the chatbot idea. Less than quarter of developers who are aware of chatbots are convinced of the chatbot appeal.

"It's notable that Apple and Google, the undisputed leaders of the mobile app world, fell far behind Facebook, Microsoft, and even smaller messaging apps in seizing the chatbot opportunity. Facebook is the undisputed global leader in developer mindshare with over 40 percent of developers interested in developing for the Facebook Messenger platform."

Visionmobile earlier this year blogged about how there's much more going on in the messaging field beyond what the term "chatbot" connotes.

"These days everyone and their uncle is talking about chatbots as the next thing after apps," the company said in a post titled Beyond the 'Chatbot' -- the Messaging Quadrant. "But 'Chatbot' is a rather poor name for explaining the changes taking hold in mobile. 'Chatbots' are a mental model suited to developers. The term means very little to users. Besides, 'chatbots' represent only a small part of what is happening in the messaging space."

Along those lines, the company highlighted it new concept of the messaging quadrant, with axes reflecting "apps vs. no apps" and "AI vs. no AI." That quadrant looks like this:

The Messaging Quadrant
[Click on image for larger view.] The Messaging Quadrant (source: Visionmobile)

"The 'apps vs no apps' axis is about whether the service is delivered as a standalone iOS or Android app, or whether the service 'lives' inside horizontal messaging platforms (Messenger, Slack, Skype, Telegram, Kik, as well as SMS)," the company explained. "The 'AI vs no AI' axis is about whether the chat service is powered entirely by human operators or uses AI-based natural language processing to automate all or parts of conversations."

The integration of chatbot functionality (or more broadly, "messaging") is even more important in the wake of a new report that says smartphones are now the means by which most Americans are spending their online time.

"Another major digital media milestone was reached this July," comScore Inc. said in a blog post last week. "Smartphone apps, which have been playing an increasingly important role in consumers' digital lives over the past several years, now account for more than half of all Americans' time spent online, according to comScore Media Metrix Multi-Platform and comScore Mobile Metrix. While the smartphone app has been the most important access vehicle to the Internet for some time, growing its share to a point where it now eclipses all other digital media platforms combined speaks to just how central to our lives the smartphone has become."

About the Author

David Ramel is editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine and Application Development Trends Magazine.

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