[Part 2] How messenger-bot functionality fits into the history of IT
Part 1 looked at the rise of messenger-bot combinations, which could potentially replace smartphone apps altogether. For Part 2, we’ll delve deeper into how the idea of putting messengers and bots together burst onto the scene, where the concept originally came from, and how it all fits into the grander scheme of the IT lineage.
■Unraveling the history of IT
The current developments aren’t the first time the IT world has gone through major changes. Over the past three decades, several turning points have transformed service provision in the IT sector.
The first sea change came when providers moved from software for closed, desktop-oriented PC environments—the long-standing domain of Microsoft domain—to an open, web-based structure in the late 1990s. The next transition arrived in 2008 as the focus shifted from the web to mobile apps, where Google and Apple have reigned supreme.
With messenger- and bot-based “interactive” services now pushing mobile apps aside, 2016 marks the latest step in the evolutionary story of IT service provision.
If you examine these three stages in terms of where the systems providing services do their actual processing, you can see that the pattern has alternated between client-side and server-side processing. What does that mean? It’s an important question to think about.
The root of all service development is—and always has been—the desire to attract as many service users as possible. The way I see it, the transformations of the IT world stem from both a commitment to applying the latest advances in technology and a determination to fulfill those user-serving aspirations.
That was sure the case when PCs gave way to the web. Moving online gave developers a chance to free themselves from Microsoft control and offer web-based services to a wider audience at no charge. One of the keys was migrating to server-side operations, which allowed developers to work in any development language or environment they wanted to.
The same underlying motivations drove the shift from the web to apps in 2008, as well. Once the numbers of smartphone users started shooting through the roof and the App Store made its debut, developers saw that tapping into that massive user population was as simple as providing their services via mobile apps. The shift was a lucrative draw, too: the App Store made it easier for developers to monetize their efforts, thereby accelerating the transition to the mobile app format.
Mobile apps weren’t just a revelation for developers—they revolutionized the user experience, as well. Compared to the clunky mobile web format, which simply presented a website on a mobile device as it’d appear in a desktop browser, the new wave of mobile apps optimized content specifically for mobile devices. Every mobile device home screen held a repository of the user’s own apps, making service provision more personal than it had ever been.
In the move out of the web-based world and into the app age, however, developers lost a lot of their freedom. The transition to client-side operations brought in a host of new requirements and restrictions: to provide services, developers had to work in specific development languages and environments, tweak their code to ensure compatibility with a wide array of specific operating systems and models, and jump through hoops to get their apps approved. As client-side operations entered the mainstream, users found themselves having to go to the trouble of downloading and installing an app every time they wanted to access the corresponding service.
Providing services from the server side would be the simplest fix to all those problems, but server-side operations limit the amount of reach a given app has. Besides the App Store, developers didn’t have any feasible channels to work with.
Messengers are transforming that dynamic. In Part 1, I noted that messenger users now number into the hundreds of millions across the globe. The direct, expansive channel that developers were so desperate for when apps took over was in place; reaching multitudes of users had never been so easy. The only problem was that messengers were “messengers” by name and “messengers” by nature, tools enabling users to contact each other. Messengers didn’t have the functionality that apps did.
Technology, however, always catches up to needs. In come the bots.
By bringing bot technology onto the messenger platform, providers finally had a new way of delivering the kinds of services that apps had provided.
The “bot age,” should it come to pass, would free developers from the controlling presence of Apple and Google. Just like the web era helped erode the dominating position that Microsoft had carved out, bots would allow developers to work in their preferred languages, design content in their favorite environments, and forget about having to deal with complex processing and device specifications. Higher-quality services reaching wider audiences—that’s the promise that bots hold for the development community.
Bot technology takes the hassle out of the user experience, too: not having to download apps is one obvious plus, but the biggest benefit of the bot age is the immense potential for personalization. Apps deliver the same content to every user, but bots give providers a way around that limitation. Using CRM data, for example, a provider could take advantage of bot technology and tailor a service’s layout, functionality, and content to each individual user.
I might be getting a little bit ahead of myself here, but it’s clear to me that the shift from the app era to the bot age is happening.
The key thing to understand about the transition from apps to bots is that it’s a distinctive change in the evolutionary history of the IT sphere—it’s a paradigm shift, far more expansive in its scope than what the past has seen. Services in the web- and app-based worlds were tools that people used for specific, individual purposes. A person would use one service for traveling, another service for map functionality, and another separate service for every other need. The user was responsible for deciding which services to use in which situations.
In the “bot era,” however, users won’t even have to think of services as individual, objective-specific resources.
If you were to ask a bot to book a ticket to San Francisco, the bot could gather the necessary information from the right sources (which could be services or people) and respond accordingly. Instead of offering “tools” to users, bots give users someone to talk with—a much more human form of interaction than what services have traditionally embodied.
The emphasis on “human interaction” isn’t exclusive to the bot world, of course. You can see it shaping lots of other interfaces.
Two prime (though still developing) examples are Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Echo, whose AI technology can provide services in response to voice commands. Eventually, the Siri and Echo interfaces will probably even be able to give users exactly the information they’re looking for without even needing any human input. In that sense, Siri and Echo represent the chief competition for bots—and whichever platform manages to integrate itself most seamlessly into human lifestyles is going to be in control of the whole picture.
The history of the IT world provides a valuable context for understanding why the messenger-bot combination came to be. I hope I’ve given you a better idea of the conditions that led IT down the evolutionary path from the “app age” into the era of messengers and bots.
While changes may be afoot, the “bot age” is just now beginning to dawn. Corporate competition is only going to intensify over the next few years, and we’ll have to wait and see how the struggle unfolds. The battle for supremacy could very well be tilting away from Apple, the master of the app age, and toward the likes of Facebook, LINE, and the other messenger platform giants.
For the final installment of this series, we’ll focus on the kinds of services that companies are prepping for the oncoming “bot age,” introduce a few recent examples, and chart out the bot battles that companies are bound to be waging in the near future.
Hiroshi Nakano, Business Producer
Joined DI after working in ZIGExN company. In ZIGExN, Hiroshi launched a Vietnamese subsidiary and worked as CEO. In the company, he is engaged in an offshore development of 50 people and pursuing a wide range of business activities such as the expansion of a web services business aimed locally, business strategy decisions, marketing, recruitment and training.
At DI, as a central member of Asia development in investment destinations such as Wrap Media, he is engaged in planning growth strategy as well as business development strategy, implementation support, etc. It also pursues consultancy activities in Japan, such as developing new business strategies for the manufacturing industry and brand strategies for makers of consumer products.
BA from the Department of Electrical and Electric Engineering, and a MA from the Graduate School of Electrical Physics at Tokyo Institute of Technology.