The Joneses have new things, so Google decided to jump on the bandwagon. At least, that's according to a report from The Information which says Google is hard at work developing a platform for chat bots in the same vein that Facebook and more recently Microsoft have done. Some, but perhaps not all, the details will be discussed at I/O this week. Details are thin in the report, but the backbone of the initiative seems to be developer tools.
We told you late last year about another rumor from the Wall Street Journal that Google was working on yet another messaging service—to build on their existing, smashing successes—that would be built with a focus on bots. This report sounds more plausible and focuses on the work of the same Googler, Nick Fox. More than a new messaging service, which The Information doesn't definitively rule out, Google wants to make its analytics and natural language processing strengths available to developers to create their own bots.
There is still more to learn, but it seems relatively clear that we should expect a set of developer tools provided by Google to help third parties develop bots. Some integration with Google Now, especially Now on Tap, appears to be in the works as well. This isn't exactly groundbreaking since Google has been gradually working third parties into the Now experience since last year.
Time will tell, but I'd say that this is a matter of Google hedging its bets. There have been some folks predicting a bot revolution in which bots replace apps; Google probably wants to be sure not to be left out of such a paradigm shift, even if it seems unlikely to take place.
Another factor here is the failure of Google's messaging services to reach wide adoption. If Google can power chat bots that live in other messaging apps, Google may be able to still get some of that sweet, sweet user data.
Google-powered bots might also be a good compromise position between developers having to build them from the ground up and having developers completely hand over the keys to Google Now (or Siri, Alexa, Cortana, etc.). Bots provide companies the chance to build a unique and recognizable public face and it is reasonable that they would want that. With support from Google's polished speech processing and AI technology, it would be easier for developers to get the fundamentals right.
We will likely get some answers at I/O, so stay tuned for updates.
- The Information