Meet Bob, the Christmas joker

2017 is drawing to a close and we are buzzing at Webfactory about chatbots. After the big promises made for chatbots a decade ago the technology, while still in its infancy, has had time to mature. It’s now making a strong comeback, backed by tech giants like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft. I think we can safely say that it is time to embrace it. Bots are about to become a commodity.

But what is a chatbot?

Imagine you’re chatting with your friend on a website or through a messaging app such as Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, or Slack. But instead of your friend you are chatting with a clever bot. It’s warm, conversational, and almost human...in fact it’s hard to tell the difference. There is an even a test to check that called the Turing test.

Back to today. At the moment, bots are not all that clever. For example they probably can’t reflect the depth of knowledge your friend might have about GAA. However a clever chatbot might give you accurate match results for the past 20 years....and only that.

This is what we call an ANI (Artificial Narrow Intelligence) Chatbot. These chatbots are made with one purpose and only that purpose. These are the chatbots we are interested in today and can see popping up everywhere around the web.

So we decided to build one.

Introducing the Webfactory Christmas joke chatbot

You have to start somewhere, so we decided to experiment with a chatbot designed to do one thing only. Tell Christmas jokes, and maybe make some people laugh.

The research

We looked at the tools available and decided to build the chatbot on DialogFlow. There were a couple of reasons for going with it, mainly machine learning and the promise of easy integration with a host of popular platforms.

The build

Junior developer Dan Flynn was given 4 days to crack the whole thing from the ground up. He’d support from senior developers Adrien Sirjacques and Niall Colgan, who have already been working on chatbot prototypes for clients.

The go live

We focused on getting the newly christened chatbot live on Facebook Messenger. Considering the effort required to prepare it for submission that was probably enough!

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The learnings

A lot of blood, sweat and bad jokes later we were live. What was learnt along the way?

  • There are a lot of really bad Christmas jokes out there
  • It’s fun making chatbots
  • The way they can learn is seriously clever
  • We need to build a dialogue tree next time - having useful content is important
  • They can the user the feeling of a personal service
  • Context matters
  • Doing one thing only is key

Chatbots and your business

So now you might be asking what can chatbots do for your business?

We’re exploring the potential of chatbots with our clients for 2018. Talk to us and find out how you can leverage their always on, quick learning skills for your business.

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Sinead Clandillon

Head of Content

The author

Sinead is Webfactory’s content strategist and she also manages the online visibility team, comprising search, analytics and social.

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