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The Future of the Web : Part One – Robots!

Hey, it looks like you’re writing a letter!

Those of us of a certain age and disposition will, with some degree of trepidation, find the title of this post strangely familiar.  Some may even be struck by a sudden inextricable rage. I’ll give you a moment.

OK? Good.

You see, “It looks like you’re writing a letter!” was the chirpy greeting of the irrepressible “Clippy”, otherwise recognised as the most common face of the Microsoft Office 97, Office Assistant.

Regardless of your actual intent, Clippy would pop up in the corner of your screen and enthusiastically try to assist you, providing grammatical suggestions, layout and formatting corrections and often just generally hassling you while you attempted to work.

While the intentions were pure, Clippy’s tendency to pop-up and interrupt you while you were mid-sentence was somewhat irksome.  So it was some surprise to me, to see that almost twenty years later, the likes of Clippy may be about to become a hot new trend in the world of web development.

The myth of the three click rule

It’s been a commonly held belief for some time that an “average user” should be able to find any information on your site with no more than three mouse clicks.  While there is little anecdotal evidence to support this, it’s become an adage for good user experience that a visitor should be able to achieve their goal using as few interactions as possible.

Apply this logic to a luxury hotel site and it stands to reason that your goal is to have people book a room as quickly and efficiently as possible.  While there are certainly ways of doing this, making sure the booking form is on every page of the site for example, there may be a new solution…

Rise of the machines

Adding a chat bot to your site may be just the thing you need.  You can configure a small unobtrusive pop up that greets the visitor, captures basic details such as name and email address and invites them to ask simple questions.

Using a pre-programmed artificial intelligence algorithm, you can train your bot to recognise common questions and direct the visitor accordingly.

Provided it’s done well, your chat bot can help alleviate the burden of building a complex navigation system by routing visitors exactly where they need to go.  It can even form part of your brand, if you’re so inclined.

But, will it trend?

We think that the advent of intelligent assistants for websites is going to be a big thing.  But that it has to be done right in order to be of any use.

While the technology behind chat bots has been around for a while, the Artificial Intelligence routines behind them are still relatively young.  But as they grow and mature, we’ll see web helpers becoming more and more prevalent and popular.

Suffice to say, much like the predictions of the Jetsons or Star Trek, the future is going to include a lot of robots.

 - Kingsland Linassi

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