Commentary

Bot-topia -- Or, The Value Of A Good Edit

“To write is human, to edit is divine.” -- Stephen King

 

Movie buffs have no problem rattling off this year’s Academy Award nominations for Best Picture.  However, ask them to name just one movie nominated for Best Film Editing, and they may struggle. But, perhaps surprisingly, these are two of the most highly correlated categories in the Oscars.

In fact, since 1981 not a single film has won Best Picture without having also been nominated for Best Film Editing. And, in roughly 66% of the cases, the film being nominated for Best Editing has gone on to win Best Picture. Obviously, great editing goes hand-in-hand with great film success.

The editor’s task is deciding what to keep, and what to cut from a piece of work, and these decisions may seem drastic or even violent (at least to its author).  The word “decision” comes from the Latin cidere (“to cut away”) and is related to –cide (“killing”). Or as Stephen King put it in “On Writing”: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

Reading down the list of the top 200 mobile apps underscores, in a different context, the power of great editing. The top apps -- Snapchat, Messenger, Instagram, Pandora, Spotify, Uber -- all provide delightful, frictionless user experiences. They are perfected, purposeful environments free of nonessential details or functionality. And because these top 200 apps dominate 70% of all usage, they form the de facto rulebook for success.

A few brands follow this rulebook: Chase, Starbucks, Walmart, Target, Bank of America, and CVS. But the vast majority of brands do not, residing alongside 1,499,800 others in the purgatory of the 30%.

Help is coming, and it will look like a bot.

Bots are focused, purpose-driven, highly essentialized pieces of software. Stripped of excess ornament or bloatware, “bots reduce friction to as close to zero as computing allows. “ They are an editor’s dream.

Bots aren’t new. Google’s search algorithms have relied on bots (called “spiders”) to index the Web for years. But three recent and overlapping shifts are making bots ever more central to our digital lives.

Huge advances in AI technology and commercial applications.  AlphaGo’s victory over Korean Go champion Lee Se-dol two weeks ago not only captured world attention, it also sprung AI from the laboratory think-tank.  The commercialization of AI’s various sub-categories -- natural language processing, computer vision, machine learning -- is where a lot of companies justifiably spend their time, because this is where the obvious applications are (Amazon Echo, for example).

Bots are natural containers for much of this new functionality, because they are easy to make, work well in multiple environments, and don’t ask users to change current behaviors.

Messaging as a platform. Platforms appear where there is massive consolidation of engaged users.  Developers write software only for dominant or ascendant platforms and will ignore the rest (remember Symbian?)  The only smartphone OS platforms that matter today are iOS and Android (in all its versions). Higher up the stack, the only apps that matter are the top 200 mentioned earlier. Within that rarified group, those apps that really, really matter – Messaging, for one --  become platforms.

Bot stores become the new app stores. Bot ecosystems are growing up everywhere: Kik, Slack, and Telegram have them, Google is developing its own chatbots, and VCs are talking about the Great Bot Rush of 2016.

The most important development in this area – particularly for brands – may happen three weeks from now at Facebook’s F8 on April 12. It is widely accepted that, during this event, Facebook will announce the creation of a Facebook Bot Store (or at least a robust developer SDK), making branded bot integration within Messenger easier than ever.  

But will consumer prefer to use a brand’s native app, or the brand’s bot inside Messenger?  Techcrunch’s rhetorical question seems to make the answer obvious: “When you can quickly and easily interact with Domino’s, United Airlines and Capital One on Messenger, will you ever use their bloated native apps again?”

The evolution of messaging apps into giant, chat-based platforms, along with the simultaneous growth of bot ecosystems that serve them, will force brands to significantly question their current mobile strategies:

  1. Focus on low-cost, high-quality bot integrations with major platforms, and bring my brand’s core value proposition to a large number of consumers in their preferred environment?

OR:

  1. Continue to spend real money building and promoting stand-alone apps that will probably be ignored by most users?

In other words: To edit, or not to edit?     

That is the question.

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