April 18, 2018

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Chat is the New Browser

Before search engines like Google, Bing, and Ask Jeeves (if you can remember that far back) knowledge was shared through publications widely distributed and driven by the printing press. Before this time knowledge was shared through scholars if one was fortunate enough to interact with such people.

The sharing of knowledge is not dependant on technology to be distributed, the accessibility of knowledge is the factor that depends on technology. With advancements in distribution channels from printed word and images, to the desktop internet, and now the mobile devices we carry everywhere we go and even the wearables that literally attach to our bodies — we are only a short step away from embeddable devices allowing unlimited flow of knowledge.

Before we get there though we need to slow down and take on the challenges of design, data privacy and security, and responsibility.

Technology news is full of AI and serious advancements in space travel, but that scares the hell out of me. We went from printers to 3D printers without ever really getting printers to work well first. There’s a reason few astronauts have travelled to the moon, good luck getting me on the first (test) flight to Mars, we can’t even figure out reliable internet connections or wireless devices without signal dropping.

We’re rushing with technology because we fear someone getting there first, when we should be more concerned with getting there well. Everything we do with modern technology is just an evolution of what humans have done before us, whether that is Johannes Gutenberg and the printing press or Yuri Gagarin being the first into space, we are social and curious creatures that like a challenge. Where there is a challenge there is risk and responsibility, we must remember that always because at the end of a game of monopoly all the pieces go back in the box.

Nothing we are doing in business is truly original, we’re progressing on the work of those that came before us, all the way back to the earliest physical marketplaces where local goods and services were traded with great time and effort consumed. Today we simply look to make the effort of a lead generation, transaction, and sale as quick and seamless as possible.

As technology advances, the design of interfaces that allow us to reach across great distances is a key to getting to the next level well, not just first. Look back at any website from 20 years ago, even 10 years ago and you’ll realise how far we have come in some respects and how little we have moved in others. Even the browsers themselves have moved with the times and our experience from the earliest version of IE to the ever popular Google Chrome is a world away from the early pioneering efforts. Screen sizes are getting smaller, attention spans are shorter than ever, and with the increasing ease of entering the marketplace there are more and more competitors pitching for an audience that isn’t growing at the same pace.

Conversations drive business while technology enables and enhances the experience, you cannot run a business on technology alone as every transaction starts with a person’s want, and ends with another person’s fulfilment of that want. This is why Chat platforms will dominate the business world and browsers will either shrink and die out, or adapt to the flowing tide. Personal assistants like Alexa and Google Home are already facilitating this evolution with the ability to talk to an AI to fulfil a want, whether that be to buy and item or experience, or simply to gain knowledge.

AI is a fast moving solution to a seemingly obvious problem that is unfortunately not well defined, leading to an illusion of agreement in the industry. This contrast in problem and solution is likely to impact the fast movers hardest while allowing the slow movers to learn from mistakes and sneak in for the win, moving purposefully and responding to changing factors at short intervals is the best course to arrive at the destination in good shape.

Screen sizes have shrunk to the sizes we see on modern mobile phones and further still with wearables. We will get to embeddables, where screens will not play a factor, but for now we should focus on the problem we can see now rather than the problem we envision over the horizon because that problem we imagine now will not be the same problem when we encounter it.

Chat platforms have historically been pretty simple with the ability to communicate through text with another party. Emoji and Gif are the precursor to much richer enhancements in chat interactions, with the ability to buy products, book experiences, and browse already being made possible. It is early days yet but the concept has been planted and the design problems are exposing themselves as we use such interfaces and interactions. We’re improving the speed and efficiency of our current wants into this new way of connecting.

AI chatbots are going to be good enough to get the job done for now but will likely miss the mark trying to replicate human interactions. This is going to feel like the pain we have felt and currently feel when we call our bank and get an automated recorded response with questions and answers to step through.

Real interactions with real people will always have a place, particularly with those companies that appreciate the value of human interaction in their business. Interacting with a real person through an AI is a significant disrespect to the customer, no matter how well the AI works, the fact that you put a computer in front of a customer is an expression of a lack of value. This will be perfect for most 3rd tier businesses, while those aspiring to 1st tier will want to retain a human voice for much longer.