For those of us in the chatbot business, the recent Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Many chatbot companies rely solely on Facebook to deploy their chatbots, so the decision to bring down the drawbridge by Facebook was one of those ‘they did what?’ moments.
We too have felt the pain. But here’s an interesting thought: maybe, just maybe, the current hiatus is actually a good thing for the chatbot industry.
Here are some reasons:
1. Encourages us to try other chatbot channels
The more I think about it, the more I realise we’ve all been drinking the Facebook cool aid for too long. The reality is Facebook is just one channel where chatbots can be deployed, there are literally dozens of other channels where chatbots can live - Skype, Slack, Workplace, Telegram, WeChat, etc, as well as growing list of voice channels (Alexa, Google Home, Cortana, etc). Granted, none have the reach of Facebook but depending on who you serve, it could be that your tribe live on one of these alternative channels anyway.
2. Increases innovation more broadly
With more competition comes more innovation. The expansion in the voice device market is largely thanks to the diversification of devices. The entry of other players in the market (asides from market dominant Alexa) has increased innovation and diversity in the voice arena generally.
3. Data should be taken seriously
Mark Zuckerberg’s recent appearance in front of Congress, cringe worthy as it was (due to Zuckerberg’s nervousness) demonstrated something very profound.
It went as follows...
Sen. Dick Durbin asked Zuckerberg, "Would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?"
"Um," Zuckerberg smirks, and after a long pause. "No."
"I think that might be what this is all about — your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy, and how much you'd give away in modern America," Durbin said.
Now the genie is out the box, it will take some putting back in (the genie, in case you were wondering, is our personal data and who has access to it).
Public confidence needs to be reclaimed. Yes, Facebook's action to put a temporary block on chatbots is an exercise in damage limitation, but as a result it should make their chatbot platform more robust. Which is good for all of us.
To conclude, Facebook's chatbot hiatus not only gives other channels (such as Skype or Alexa) a chance to shine it also encourages developers to turn their gaze in that direction too - thus spurring on innovation.
Watch this space!