Bots, bots, bots and does your Product really need one?

It seems that chat bots are the next thing that are starting to enter mainstream communication platforms. Granted, they have been around for a while, but since Slack’s dominance has grown in the workplace and beyond and Facebook releasing their Messenger Platform, they seem to have finally hit the big time. The question I ask today is does your Product need a chat bot in addition or as a replacement to what you as a company offer already?

Before we begin there are certain assumptions I am making about your product.

  • Your product is B2C (Business to Consumer)
  • Your product is currently or will be a website or mobile app
  • Your need some sort of interaction with your consumer to operate

I generally agree that there are a lot of advantages to chat bots, in my mind the sales pitch works. Message platforms already have an established base of users (eg ~1Billion in the case of Facebook Messenger), it is not yet another app for your potential customer to install, the interface is more natural and forgiving to users (compared with a web form).

There are some holes in the above though, Slack apps are already suffering from discoverability issues as more companies integrate with the platform it becomes increasingly difficult to find new integrations that might be worth using. The platform also assumes some level of AI (I use this term very loosely), for example online shopping has been used as potential avenue, but I cannot see myself browsing either Ocado when wanting to do my grocery shopping or Amazon looking for an item simply due to the sheer number of items that both platforms offer. This just shows that there is still some technology that needs to fill the gap or more importantly some clever design that needs to occur.

We finally get the crux of the matter, what bots really offer is a design opportunity, especially to an established business. It allows your business to really focus on the core interaction you have with your customers without the excess of branding and styling a website/mobile app. The focus is on what pieces of information, what bits of data do you need to offer your product to a customer. It is then working out if you can infer any of this information without a question (because reducing clicks still matters). Once you have done this you have the core of your product, if anyone was to ask ‘what do you offer?’, this set of questions & the corresponding answers is it.

So really does your product need a chat-bot? most likely ‘No’ as it is still early days. However, I would use the technology as a chance to revisit the design of your product, to nail down the core interactions in the minimalistic interface that a chat window offers. This process will reveal the core product of the business and how it adds value to the lives of your customers, an excellent way to connect a team to the heart of a business.

#bots #messenger #design #product

Amusing CRM message

A quick post today as I am starting slightly later than usual. A couple of days ago at work the whole dev team received an email from a service that shall remain nameless. This service is used to monitor errors that occur on our site and currently we only use it for front-end javascript errors as we have a separate service for backend exceptions. The purpose of the email was to highlight that this service could do our backend exceptions as well; this is fine I personally don’t like that we have two services to monitor exceptions. However the message was possibly a little to honest, see the quote below:

Honestly I think we’re more purpose built for back-end error monitoring. :-)

And with that one sentence we have started looking at other providers to monitor our front-end errors and they have potentially lost a customer. Moral of the story: They assumed that we would want to switch our back-end monitoring without knowing anything about our back-end stack, but they actually revealed the weakness of there front-end monitoring!

#monitoring #funny #becarefulwhatyousendout

HTTPS & Let's Encrypt

At the tail end of last year (2015), the Linux Foundation announced the public beta release of a new Certificate Authority (CA) under the name “Let’s Encrypt”. The main thing that differentiates this CA from others is that it is free. At the beginning of the year I dove right in & setup certificates for this site and my wedding website. The process was a bit clunky to begin with, but by the time it came to test the renewal approximately 80 days later (which didn’t go smoothly, what does first time around?), the Let’s Encrypt team had significantly improved the process of renewals. Therefore to my delight any site I now setup will have an automatically renewing SSL certificate.

You may be asking why is this so important? Why is a free CA something to write about? Most internet users know that they should check for the green padlock when logging into a secure site (e.g. banking, e-commerce), this means that the site has a SSL certificate so any information you send to their servers is encrypted and no one should be able to read that information except the intended recipients. Having HTTPS is so important these days that Google even takes it into consideration when ranking search results, it should be done by default. However SSL certificates cost hundreds if not thousands a year, the thousands is for when the company name is shown in the address bar of your browser (see below for an example). The fact that these normally cost so much puts them out of reach of individuals looking to secure their website.

HTTPS in Browser Bar

Therefore the work that Let’s Encrypt is doing in bringing an automated free solution is so important for the web of tomorrow and truly allows HTTPS to be the default when setting up a website. This is especially true when service providers are integrating the Let’s Encrypt solution into their platforms, for example Netlify, Wordpress.com and Shopify have already done this.

If you have your own site and are looking to get https added, check out the Let’s Encrypt documentation here or send this information to your service provider asking them when they intend to offer https for free.

#letsencrypt #httpseverywhere #security #ssl

Article a Day

So I have been hugely enjoying David Kadavy’s podcast ‘Love your work’, it is such an inspiration to listen to on a weekly basis. From this (he has written a 500 word Medium post every day for a couple of months) and several other sources (thefaithgap) I have decided to write and publish a blog post before 9am every day. These will vary in length but most likely be short & sweet as I am not the best writer and given my current commute (~50 min train journey) there will be mostly my own thoughts from what I can remember when referencing external material or what I can dream up. Luckily I normally get into work well before 9am so I can correct any links and do a quick check against things I reference.

The main point is that I start writing and put my contribution however small out in to the world and have faith that I can do just that.

#before9am #loveyourwork #productivity #faithgap

HACK - Office Files

Ever wanted the original image, video or media item embedded in a Powerpoint presentation or Word document? It turns out that these files are just zip archives in disguise. Simply add .zip to the end of your file (ensure this is after the .docx, .pptx) so you have file.docx.zip, then unzip the archive and voila the media folder has all the original images, videos contained within the file.

#office #hack