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11 chatbots created at Y Combinator’s online startup school

Recently Sam Altman from Y Combinator announced a new online Startup School. It’s a 10-week massively open online course (MOOC). The idea is to teach everyone how to start a startup and help them along the way with guidance from people who’ve started companies.

Startup School will have guest speakers covering a wide variety of topics, including Alan Kay, Jan Koum (WhatsApp), Patrick Collison (Stripe), Steve Huffman (Reddit), Jason Lemkin (SaaStr), Harry Zhang (Lob), Dalton Caldwell (YC), Emmett Shear (Twitch), Adam D’Angelo (Quora), Alex Schultz (Facebook), Tracy Young (PlanGrid), Michael Seibel (YC), Kirsty Nathoo (YC), Vinod Khosla (Khosla Ventures), Ali Rowghani (YC), Jess Lee (Sequoia), and Aaron Harris (YC).

Our company ChatBottle was one of a few chatbot startups enrolled in the course. Each group has its own mentor, usually a founder of a well-known company or a YC alumni. We were lucky to work with Ryan Bubinski from Codecademy. The total number of messaging and voice chatbot startups is close to 50. Here are the ones from the course I thought were the best.

Reply is an enterprise-level bot building platform that allows you to build and manage cross-platform bots across all messaging apps, no coding required. Reply.ai is being used by KIA, Nike, VAIO, HP, and others, and the platform integrates with major customer support platforms such as FreshDesk, Zendesk, and LiveChat.

The first ecommerce fashion and shopping chatbot for Facebook Messenger, ChatShopper asks users about their fashion taste and replies back with the product suggestions. “We believe in conversational interfaces and investing in NLU and deep learning to make fashion shopping via chat an awesome experience,” says Antonia Ermacora, a ChatShopper cofounder. Earlier, ChatShopper won the First ChatBottle Awards as the best ecommerce chatbot of 2016.

BotMakers is a marketplace that helps chatbot development agencies and indie developers make money from selling Facebook Messenger chatbots templates. The marketplace makes AI chatbots affordable for small and mid-size companies. Instead of creating…

One year later, here’s the state of the chatbot economy

“What’s the state of the global chatbot economy today?”

That’s a question that I’ve been asked a lot lately, and one that I’m hoping to get more answers to by attending the second edition of Chatbot Summit in Berlin at the end of the month. Since bot mania took over the tech world nearly a year and a half ago, not a single month has gone by without significant news coming from both startups and the usual suspects (i.e. Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, etc.). Needless to say the space has been hyperactive since the beginning, and it doesn’t show any sign of slowing down.

That said, a lot of brand managers and chief digital officers are still new to the bot world. As such, I thought it would be handy to go back in time and take a snapshot of where the bot ecosystem stands today.

By the numbers

As of mid-2016, more than 11,000 Facebook Messenger bots and 20,000 Kik bots had been launched. Over the last year, you could’ve shopped New York Fashion Week pieces from the Burberry bot, asked the Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte bot its favorite book, or sent emojis to the British Airways bot to get vacation recommendations. Fast forward to this stat from April 2017: 100,000 bots were created for Messenger alone in the first year of the Messenger platform.

VCs have started paying attention to chatbots too. In the first six months of 2016 alone, $58M was invested in chatbots and 29 new bot startups were founded. Slack launched an $80M fund last year to invest specifically in bots running on its platform. There is, in fact, even a website that tracks all of the chatbot financings as they happen.

Race between the tech giants

For the past few years, the industry giants have been competing for the top spot in the race to build the best chatbot and the best bot platform.

“Bots are the new apps,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in March 2016, setting off the chatbot revolution. But the company took to the movement with a bit of a rocky start last year. An AI chatbot made for Twitter, Tay got taken down about 24 hours after its launch when its tweets became racist and hate-filled. After that, Microsoft launched Zo, a bot for Kik ,…

What’s really happening right now with chatbots

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One night in Corvallis, with the Oregon State basketball team heading to its 14th straight loss of its season, the talk around the hotel bar moved from the television screen to a far different form of communication — chatbots.

No one used that word, of course. But the technology took front and center in a conversation about Alexa, the voice-activated digital assistant from Amazon that can do everything from play music to order groceries. Give Amazon credit: it’s pushed hard to win the hearts and minds of U.S. consumers, teeing up more than 100 mini ads for just that purpose.

Software that can respond to voice or text commands is a high-growth investment sector about to explode in scope and penetration worldwide. Look no further than the announcement by Mark Zuckerberg last year that Facebook Messenger will be opened to bot development. With Messenger drawing 1.2 billion users per month, its corporate parent is now actively encouraging developers to plug in and more than 10,000 have already done so.

The rise of chatbots also signals a landscape-altering reality: the decline of standalone mobile apps. Alphabet, Facebook, Snap and others see a world where a spoken or typed word can trigger software that is intelligent enough to handle airline reservations, make clothing purchases, or a reorganize one’s calendar. It will be the difference between opening an airline app to get your flight information and simply typing or saying, “Grab my boarding pass.”

And it’s already happening. Onvoya, for example, can find a flight based on your travel preferences. Talklocal lets you request a plumber like you’re ordering pizza. And Dotin can use publicly available posts, photos, and other data to help companies pinpoint everything from buying behaviors to good employment matches.

In fact, you can argue the messaging layer of the software stack will be the de facto operating systems of the future, with bots handling most the chores of today’s phone-based apps.

For investors, the growth of chatbots has two important implications. First, it will fuel a rising demand for artificial-intelligence software (AI) to make businesses bot friendly. Second, it will create a standardized and low-data use approach to reach markets still challenged by high-speed connectivity.

In other words, bots will make it as easy to sell in India as Indiana.

Battle for the intelligence layer

For the next decade, the key business technology driver will be bots that can connect to both local and cloud-based data centers. That will put a premium on AI routines that can connect voice and text commands to everyday processes.

Already the battle is on among startups to become the go-to provider of affordable, AI-driven bot technology. One such example is Botworx. The California company provides businesses with bots that can…

The way forward with Facebook Messenger bots

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From the moment Mark Zuckerberg got on stage at F8 in 2016 and announced the Messenger chatbot ecosystem, innovative brands, agencies, and developers jumped to start testing the waters with chatbots.

Dazzled by massive user numbers on messaging applications, the accessibility of chatbot authoring platforms and the perceived ease of bringing a product to market, it was too good to pass up. 30,000 bots were launched within six months and thousands more surfaced each month afterward.

Today, that number is up to 100,000. Scores of brands have developed bots for Messenger, all of them seeking an opportunity to drive quality one-to-one interactions with their customers at scale. Keeping in mind customer experience and the challenges brands face as app downloads decrease and ad blockers increase, there’s hardly a better opportunity available to brand marketers today.

The evolution of bots

In the first year, we learned many lessons about chatbots. Because of its one-on-one nature, people feel comfortable sharing their opinions and truthfully answering questions, making chatbots an effective tool to collect data and customize offerings.

But, it only works if users are engaging the bot in the first place. And when users do utilize bots, they expect the experience to feel natural and authentic as if they were speaking with a friend or an actual brand representative.

We also learned that not enough users were discovering bots. And those who were discovering and using bots weren’t necessarily having highly engaging experiences. Many of the so-called chatbots didn’t really chat. They just guided users through menu-based interactions in which inputs were limited to whatever buttons were presented to the…

How data analytics will help us understand chatbots

Bots can augment human interaction, create greater business efficiencies, and remove friction from customer interactions.

It’s also a market that’s attracting impressive investment dollars, with 180 bot companies raising $24 billion in funding to date. Industry leaders from IBM to Facebook are making big efforts to take advantage of this trend, spending significant resources encouraging developers to create new bots that enable more personalized customer interactions. In March of 2016, Cisco announced the Spark Innovation Fund, a $150 million investment in bots and developers who want to make new products for Cisco endpoints in offices around the world.

Some of the most obvious uses for bots revolve around communication, customer service, and ecommerce. Chatbots are at the center of the way people communicate today, with over 2.5 billion people worldwide using a messaging platform like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or Telegram. Twitter recently rolled out a bot-like feature within its DM service to enable brands to interact more frequently with customers, with the goal of ultimately improving the customer experience. Facebook is testing a service to enable users to make payments on Facebook Messenger that are facilitated via the use of bots built on its platform. Gaming companies are using bots to help ward off trolls that might interfere with the natural progression of the game.

All this is happening while we create almost unfathomable amounts of data — data that is expected to reach 35 zettabytes by 2020. So how can companies outside ecommerce take advantage of bots to automate these new data sets and deliver smarter, faster analytics access in the process? Let’s take a look:

The concept of human to machine interaction via natural language processing can drive immediate analytics responses, rather than waiting on human analysis…

LINE, WeChat, WhatsApp, Facebook: Where Most Of Asia’s Business Deals Are Being Done

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Chat apps we can’t do without on our phone

Like any smartphone junky, the moment my plane touched down in Jakarta, Indonesia, I immediately turned on my phone to get to work.

I skipped my inbox completely; Gmail tends to eat a lot of data when it syncs, and besides, nothing there was really time-sensitive or important. Whatever was there could wait.

Instead, I went straight to my Line chat app to coordinate my upcoming meeting in downtown Jakarta. Traffic was definitely going to be a pain. As I began to walk towards immigration, I turned to WeChat to follow up on a burning question about a planned business trip to China. As I walked towards the Blue Bird taxi stand, I previewed some new Facebook friend requests from business colleagues I had just met in Tokyo, including a polite message from another Japanese investor discussing the status of a company he had referred to me earlier. And as I finally settled into my taxi, I busily ran through about a dozen open WhatsApp conversations, including a Golden Gate Ventures’ group chat about upcoming investments, another on co-investment opportunities with a local Indonesian fund, and at least three conversations with founders from our portfolio.

So, I guess it’s more accurate to say: like any smartphone junky, the moment my plane landed I immediately turned on my messaging apps to get to work.

Asia loves chatting. This is largely due to the prevalence of social media. And when we look at Southeast Asia specifically, mass internet adoption has only only been a recent trend, which means the desktop was completely skipped over for mobile.

Why does that matter? Because two of the top three social apps in every one of these countries are messaging-first platforms, like WeChat, LINE, Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. Unlike other regions, such as Europe or the United States, where chat and in-app messaging are often seen as a natural extension to social networks, in Asia, the reverse is more common: messaging apps are the utilities whence social networks emerge from. Snapchat is the first to buck this trend in the U.S.

As a result, Asian consumers tend to “live” on their messaging…

Bots can train employees better than you can

Don’t tell your favorite grade school teacher, but bots are infinitely more patient instructors that are willing to offer assistance and information for as long and as often as they’re needed.

That’s one reason big-time education advocates such as Bill Gates are so excited by the possibilities of AI, but it has major implications in the workplace, too.

Talla, a Boston-area startup, has created a bot that can do many of the routine tasks normally performed by an HR department, such as distributing surveys, gathering data, and even training employees. Sound far-fetched? Such bots are actually more common than many people might realize: 80 percent of companies currently rely on bot-enabled communication tools like Slack and HipChat.

Sure, bots can assume busywork and enable better interoffice communication, but a bot’s true power lies in its educational capabilities.

For many, this vision of the future might seem like a nightmare in which reliable humans are replaced by annoying chatbots that cause more problems than they solve. However, this pessimism is caught up in antiquated notions of what a bot can be, which are not helped by the chatbots encountered in apps such as Facebook Messenger.

In reality, a well-designed, well-implemented bot won’t replace employees, but it can empower them. Last spring, Georgia Tech hired a teaching assistant named Jill Watson. Jill helped the professor by answering any questions students had outside of class, and the students loved her, even if she was only available online.

There was a reason for that: Jill was actually an advanced chatbot. When students found out at the end of the semester, they were blown away. While an ordinary chatbot won’t necessarily pass the Turing test, this example shows just how far chatbots have come and how useful they can be as teachers.

Here are three ways messaging bots can improve employee training and development.

1. Act like a favorite teacher

Good teachers do more than answer questions. They also know how to ask students the right questions, framing those questions in ways designed to pique curiosity about a subject and rewarding students when they excel. A good bot can do the same.

When employees enter…

The Facebook Messenger 2.0 Platform: What Is It And Why Is It Important?

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Photo credit: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

What is the Facebook Messenger 2.0 platform, and why is it important? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Brian Roemmele, Founder and Editor at Read Multiplex, on Quora:

What is the Facebook Messenger 2.0 platform, and why is it important?

Messenger 2.0 is a huge leap for the platform and for Facebook. It is clear they will give the bot platform a voice. Ultimately, we will likely see Facebook create an Alexa-like Voice First device.

Many assumed the bot was dead already, Facebook made it far more intelligent.

Facebook is already the equivalent to the White Pages directory of a bygone phone era, a 1.2 billion-person modern directory. At the F8 conference, Facebook announced that it is moving to become the Yellow pages and using AI to facilitate the programming to over 60 million businesses on the platform. At last year’s F8 conference, Facebook announced the bot platform and the intelligent agent called M on the Messenger platform. The bot platform attracted many developers and also far more users than most observers have understood. There have been stories of very high engagement and very high sales via the platform. Although the infrastructure for users and developers have been a bit of a disappointment, the concept has proven itself in places like China. With Messenger 2.0, Facebook is moving the platform to be far more useful.

While the quality of bots over the last year has been mixed, a year later these new features could help Facebook, which now has 5 million active advertisers, build a wider, more active user base and “reinvent the way people and businesses are communicating” as Facebook’s VP of messaging David Marcus put it last year. Many tech observers have called bots a failure and assumed Facebook would give up on bots. In fact, it’s making them easier to use and access than ever thanks to elements of Messenger 2.0 and in particular Chat Extensions, which is a way for multiple people in your group chat to chat with the same business at the same time and thereby create a new way for many potential commerce interactions. This is all part of the M Suggestions, the wide release of the Facebook M personal assistant feature that rolled out in Messenger a few of weeks ago.

“We’ve created an ecosystem of developers that are now enabling large companies to do different types of things, whether they want to do brand stuff or whether they want to plug into their huge call centers with thousands of people and allow them to answer Messenger messages instead of phone calls”— David Marcus, VP Facebook

There are many elements of the new Messenger 2.0 platform, but here are the highlights:

Smart Replies:

One of Facebook’s main goals with Messenger last year was to make businesses use the product more to interact with customers. With Smart Replies, this will be an order of magnitude more successful at using Messenger. Smart Replies let businesses with Business Pages use Facebook’s AI bot engine to automatically respond to frequently asked questions such as business hours and contact details. The smart replies API gives businesses the ability to create an AI responder, powered by Facebook’s Wit.ai code. Today the system will do this in a completely automatic way with no programming on the part of the merchant. The AI and Machine Learning (ML) will scan the Business Page and produce an instant and useful response to basic questions.

Over time the ML will become more informed about successful responses and constantly update to deliver the correct or desired result. At this point Smart Replies are limited to basic questions and intents, in the future this will expand to far more complex operations that include commerce. For example, placing a food order at a quick service restaurant would be a next likely avenue that is not much more complex than scanning a FAQ page. I also see this extending into web commerce with the same very high potential for commerce.

Smart Replies will bring millions of small and medium sized businesses into an area that would have cost perhaps thousands of dollars. This solves the chicken/egg problem to populate the Bot platform, overnight millions of businesses can be on the platform making it very useful. Small and medium sized merchants can focus on responding to questions that fall outside of the abilities of the AI and over time the AI will have the answer ready. Today, Facebook is starting off by providing this service…

How the Kia Niro chatbot matches up to driving the real car

A chatbot would never lie to you, right?

That’s what I wanted to find out when I tested a Facebook Messenger chatbot for the 2017 Kia Niro crossover, which recently won the Guinness Book of World Records for the lowest fuel consumption for a hybrid vehicle. (It was an interesting competition, because two people drove across the United States using only around four gallons of fuel.)

Surprisingly, the chatbot is pretty smart. I asked it some basic questions about features and how the hybrid tech works. It quickly provided information about the 103-horsepower gas engine and the 43-horsepower equivalent electric motor (for 146 horsepower combined). The bot even offered a helpful explanation: “My 42kW lithium-ion polymer battery is packed with 1.56kWh of energy.” I was impressed with the level of detail so far.

The bot is not exactly an online brochure that feeds links to the Kia site, although in the end it is definitely a marketing tool. You can ask more detailed questions. For example, I asked about tire size and the bot gave the exact dimensions of 205/60R16 or 225/45R18s (since this depends on the wheels you choose). It also provided the exact size of the fuel tank (11.9 gallons).

Those specifications are helpful, but I wanted to ask about features that I could then test in the real car, since — as I was chatting on Facebook with the bot, the car was sitting right in front of me. Also, while specs like engine size and the fuel tank are important, there wasn’t really a way for me to verify any of that. So, I asked about a few more features.

One is related to wireless charging. It turns out the Niro supports Qi charging in a small cubbyhole below the stereo. The bot helpfully asked if I use an iPhone or Android, then pointed me…

You Can Chat With Albert Einstein’s Facebook Bot Alter-Ego

Albert Einstein is on Facebook, and he’s ready to chat. As a promotion for its new show, Genius, the National Geographic Channel has created an Albert Einstein bot for Facebook Messenger. You can banter back and forth with the theoretical version of the theoretical physicist about life, love, and science—although he’s quick to warn that “I become absent-minded during light conversations that do not involve the physical properties of light.”

Nevertheless, he will tell you all about his long list of lovers and send you plenty of GIFs from the show. The bot is more fun than most—full of puns and pithy…