What is a Bot?
Bots are everywhere right now.
Companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft are all throwing their might behind the technology. And it looks like bots and AI will are set to become more than just a modern novelty: they’ll soon become a normal and expected part of running a business.
So if you want your company to be able to keep up, you need to be able to understand how bots work – and learn how to deliver them for your business.
But here’s the problem:
The learning curve is incredibly steep.
Before you can start to build your own bot, you’ll need to understand:
- Multiple programming languages
- How web applications interact
- How web servers work
- And conversational logic.
And that’s just the beginning.
There are plenty of tutorials out there that deal with the basics of bot creation in general. You can find all sorts of tutorials for building bots on platforms like Slack, Reddit, or even your own website.
But Workplace is its own beast – and it has plenty of oddities which make those more general tutorials difficult to follow.
So here’s what I’m going to do:
I’m going to attempt to teach you all of these skills, but in a Workplace-centric way: pulling all of the basics together to form one big tutorial.
Workplace Bot-Building for Dummies
If I’ve made that sound easy, I apologise. There’s no way I can teach you everything you need to know about building bots in a single blog post (especially not to a professional level). You’re going to have to go away and get stuck in to your own additional research before you can roll out any real applications.
But by the end of this series of blog posts, you should know enough to be able to build a simple ‘Hello World’ bot. And you should be able to deploy it into your Workplace environment without breaking anything or putting your platform at risk.
So first of all, let me give you a warning:
You should expect lots of confusing new terms in this series.
As we reach each one, I’ll break out and explain the terminology in simple terms. And where appropriate, I’ll give you a link to other resources for further learning.
Now that we’ve got an idea of what’s to come in the series ahead, we can get started with our first lesson: getting to grips with the different types of bot.
What is a Bot?
In simple terms, a bot is a computer program that people can interact with in a conversational manner.
We’ll also talk about terms like ‘Chat Bot’, ‘Group Chat Bot’, and ‘Integration’. At times, I’ll be using these terms interchangeably – but you should remember that they do describe slightly different things.
‘Bot’ is just the general term we use for any kind of computer program that interacts with people through conversation.
Some bots will try to behave like a real human. Others are happy to let their users know that they’re an AI.
AI? What’s that?
AI stands for Artificial Intelligence. It’s a broad term that we use to describe a program that can make decisions without human intervention.
But don’t be fooled by the ‘intelligence’ part. An AI might be brilliant at completing complex tasks at high speed – and it might even be able to learn a few things from experience. But the kind of AI that we’ll be dealing with in this series won’t be able to drive a car or cook your dinner.
So what is a Chat Bot?
A chat bot is the most common type of bot around today. And that’s exactly what we’ll be building in this tutorial series.
A chat bot sits in a chat window and interacts with one or more people. It can read the messages your users send to it, and then reply with its own messages.
You’ve probably experienced a few chat bots in your everyday life – such as the ones that pop up on company websites, or the ones that help you through a customer service problem online.
And a Group Chat Bot?
As you’d expect, a group chat bot is a bit like a normal chat bot – except that it operates in a Workplace group.
Usually, you’ll be able to tag a particular group chat bot in a conversation thread. But a group chat bot could also just jump into a thread when it sees a certain trigger.
Let’s look at a simple example:
Here at Coolr, we have an Out of Office bot that we use. If I’m on holiday, and someone tags me in a post, our bot will send a reply to let the author of the post know that I’m not here – and it’ll even tell them when I’m due to come back into the office.
But what about Integrations?
You’ll see that I sometimes use the term ‘integration’ to refer to a bot. That’s because, technically speaking, a bot is a sub-category of integration.
In Workplace, an integration is a mechanism that links Workplace to ‘something else’. So an integration could be something that links Workplace to your HR system, a cloud storage system – or a bot.
If you’re on Workplace, you’re almost certainly using integrations already. When you use something like Google Drive through your instance of Workplace, that’s a Google Drive integration. And that means that, behind the scenes, Google is linking its cloud storage service to Workplace using the same mechanisms that we’ll be using when we make our bot.
So what’s the next step?
That was just a little introductory taster: a few simple terms and the definitions behind them.
In my next blog post, we’re going to really dig in. We’ll look at how bots communicate and do their jobs – and we’ll go through a quick shopping list of the programming tools you’ll need to start making your very own bot.