THE REAL REA­SON WHY BOTS ARE COM­ING: CHINA

HWM (Malaysia) - - LEARN - Bloomberg

But bots aren't new, and they've ac­tu­ally been around for a while now. A bot is sim­ply a soft­ware app that runs au­to­mated tasks over the In­ter­net. For ex­am­ple, Google uses bots (also known as the Google­bot) to crawl through bil­lions of web­sites to add to Google's search in­dex.

What Mi­crosoft and Face­book are go­ing on about are a spe­cific kind of bot, a chat­bot, which sim­u­lates con­ver­sa­tions to help you get things done in­side mes­sag­ing apps. A ‘con­ver­sa­tional user in­ter­face,' if you like. More Jarvis from the movie Iron Man, less Win­dows.

For ex­am­ple, in­stead of or­der­ing a pizza through a web­site, you could mes­sage the restau­rant and or­der some­thing through a backand-forth con­ver­sa­tion with a bot. A more ad­vanced bot can be­come a sin­gle-task vir­tual as­sis­tant, one could help you sched­ule a meet­ing, for ex­am­ple, by hav­ing its own con­ver­sa­tions with your cal­en­dar app and the other par­ties for you. No­body knows for sure if bots will re­ally be the next big thing. But there's one coun­try where bots — and mes­sag­ing — are hav­ing great suc­cess. And it's only the coun­try with the most num­ber of cit­i­zens in the world.

In China, mes­sag­ing apps have ex­panded to be­come much more than just a place to chat. WeChat users in China can use the app to make ho­tel reser­va­tions, or­der food, buy movie tickets, and shop.

At the be­gin­ning, com­pa­nies staffed their WeChat chan­nels with hu­mans to make the sale. Now, many are be­ing re­placed with chat­bots. That's a big mar­ket for these bots, when you con­sider that WeChat has one bil­lion ac­tive users, with more than 20 mil­lion of­fi­cial ac­counts by busi­nesses or or­ga­ni­za­tions, and in 2015 was val­ued by HSBC at US$83.6 bil­lion.

This is what Face­book hopes its de­vel­op­ers will turn Mes­sen­ger into, by re­leas­ing the Mes­sen­ger Plat­form with open APIs. The com­pany imag­ines a fu­ture where you can or­der flow­ers, ask about the weather and book ho­tels through ‘talk­ing' with a chat­bot on Mes­sen­ger.

Qi Lu, Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent of Mi­crosoft's Ap­pli­ca­tions and Ser­vices Group, told that he be­came serious about bots dur­ing a visit to China, where he watched how stu­dents and cus­tomers used their smart­phones. It was Lu who con­vinced Mi­crosoft's CEO, Satya Nadella, of bots' strate­gic po­ten­tial.

If the pop­u­lar­ity of bots for the rest of the world re­mains an open ques­tion, China, at least, has be­come a con­vinc­ing proof of con­cept. Mes­sag­ing is the next big plat­form war, and who­ever owns that plat­form — and the tools to build the bots that make the sales — can stand to reap big prof­its in the fu­ture to come. JUNE 2016 | HWM 137

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