Kik Interactive, the Waterloo based tech-company behind the messenger app Kik, launched the Bot Shop<em> — </em>a platform open to third-party developers to create chat-bots for users — April 5, 2016. There are three categories, entertainment, lifestyle, and gaming, and as of June 3, there are 56 available to users. University of Waterloo graduates and co-op students programmed the bot software. These bots have the ability to interact with users by sending daily weather reports, news stories, and other possible functions.</p>
Facebook launched the beta for their Messenger Platform including bots on April 12, 2016. Similar to Kik, Messenger bots can send weather updates and shipping notifications automatically. Facebook boasts that using the Wit.ai’s bot engine, third-party developers can create more complex bots for the future.
According to Mike Roberts, head of bots and messenger at Kik and UW alum, “April was sort of the month of messenger bots.” Along with Facebook and Kik, Line and Telegram, two other messenger apps, also announced bot platforms in March and April. “It was everyone sort of coming together and understanding that bots were here and that this is the time for messenger platforms.”
In China, the app WeChat has bots, similar to that seen on Kik and FB Messenger, but much more advanced. They have the ability to apply for loans or book doctor’s appointments. Messenger apps and their bots in North American are looking to become the WeChat of the west.
Kik and WeChat have been having discussions on the technology since WeChat is an investor in the Waterloo-based company. “We’ve definitely thought a lot about their approach to the platform,” Roberts stated. The bots seen in China are doing “online-to-offline” interactions for the users.
A similar process can be seen in Waterloo currently: one could go to Mel’s Diner and order food via Kik code, a program developed by UW co-op students. “You can see this happening right now in and around Waterloo,” Roberts said, “obviously we want to see that grow more broadly.” Kik code was actually programmed by UW co-op students.
Kik Interactive is using Waterloo as its testing grounds for these online-to-offline bots, studying how users interact with the program.
There are a couple chat bots currently in development by Taco Bell and Burger King that allow a user to order food and choose a pickup location from their messenger app. Taco Bell has partnered with Slack and Burger King with Facebook Messenger.
Roberts stated that Kik has had opportunities with large corporations: “We have a lot of people approaching us about bots and how best to use bots to get their brand of there. There are a lot of different ways that brand awareness happens through messaging media or social media in general.… There are definitely things that we are doing; order ahead with quick service restaurants is not something we’re in right now.”
According to Kik, they have 300 million registered users and “approximately 40 per cent of U.S. teens” use their app. Messenger, according to Facebook, has over 900 million users and 50 million businesses on their app, where both Messenger and Whatsapp add to those numbers.
Kik believes, despite the large gap in numbers, that they will lead the market. “We see a connection to what’s happening in China with WeChat and our demographic,” Rod McLeod, director of communications at Kik stated. “Both demographics' first touchpoint to the internet is through their mobile devices.”
The stats confirm McLeod's statement about teens, mobile devices, and Kik. According to Pervasive Group, teen Kik users spend an average 74 minutes per day on the app. Business Insider Intelligence states the average Kik user spends 97 minutes on the app per week. “We are focused on that generation that is making the shift into mobile,” Roberts said.
Facebook is a large competitor, but Kik is excited. According to McLeod, “There are very few companies in the world that are positioned to shape and build the next great platform, and we're one of them. We believe in the future of chat, and we’re just starting to see what’s possible.”