Developers struggle to make chatbots live up to the hype

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Editor's CornerDan Kobialka

Chatbots, i.e. computer programs that leverage artificial intelligence and natural language processing capabilities to maintain automated text conversations with users, represent an exciting new technology for mobile developers. However, many developers are still struggling with chatbots and remain uncertain what value – if any – these computer programs can provide.

So how can chatbots help developers? Perhaps the best definition of chatbots and their long-term impact on developers comes from Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist who invested in messaging platform Kik.

Here's what Wilson told analyst firm Vision Mobile about chatbots and their potential impact on developers:

"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."

VisionMobile Strategy Director Michael Vakulenko pointed out chatbots "promise to create a new channel for reaching mobile users alongside mobile apps." As such, many developers are "taking their shots at 'figuring it out' with chatbots" as well, Vakulenko wrote in a blog post.

In addition, the rising use of messaging apps globally indicates many opportunities could become available for developers who understand the value of chatbots.

A recent report from BI Intelligence showed "messaging apps are about more than just messaging." In fact, these apps empower developers to engage end users in innovative ways, which could make them exceedingly valuable for developers moving forward.

BI Intelligence also pointed out that mobile messaging apps boast higher retention and usage rates than traditional mobile apps. Plus, the combined user base of the top four mobile messaging apps exceeds the combined user base of the top four social networks, BI Intelligence noted.

Many popular messaging services have already opened their apps to third-party developers to drive innovation, and this trend appears likely to continue into the foreseeable future. And as developers search for "the next big thing," chatbot development may provide a valuable opportunity. - Dan@FierceDeveloper